"Millions of acres of trees and forest are being destroyed by pine bark beetles in the West and emerald ash bore in Michigan and Ohio. In the South, there's massive soil erosion, and just look at what's happening to the Mississippi -- water is overflowing costing billions in damages. Meanwhile, millions of dilapidated housing units across the country are sitting vacant or vandalized," says Kaptur. "We can plant 20 million new trees, start cleaning corridors for high speed rail, add nurses to communities, aid veterans, refurbish homes, and invest in water management. Even just fixing potholes would mean a lot."
"More important, however, than the material gains from their labors will be the moral and spiritual value of such work," said President Roosevelt in a March 21, 1933, message to Congress. With rates of unemployment steadily hovering around 9 percent (and underemployment rates ranging from 16--19 percent), the new CCC has the potential to reinforce the principle of independence, the now seemingly antiquated notion that no one willing to work should be directly dependent on any other person or group for livelihood. The CCC would also reduce the number of people relying on income support, family credit, and other costly means-tested benefits.
"There's such a waste of America's capital," Kaptur told The Nation. "To not link our hard capital and human capital, to allow this to go fallow and deteriorate .... I don't know of another generation that has ever allowed that to happen. Even in the 1930s, at the height of the depression, they had the strength and wherewithal to act." We need to do the same.
The Foundations for Success Act [S.294]
In the past decade, childcare costs have increased twice as fast as the median income of families with children. Roughly 30 percent of households with children have only one parent; and, one in five children now live in poverty. According to a UNICEF report on the well-being of children in rich countries, "evidence from many countries persistently shows that children who grow up in poverty " are more likely to:
- be in poor health,
- have learning and behavioral difficulties,
- underachieve at school,
- become pregnant at too early an age,
- have lower skills and aspirations,
- be low paid, unemployed, and welfare dependent."
Correspondingly, Nobel Prize--winning economist James Heckman warns that failing to tackle poverty by investing early-on in "human capital," will "drive up deficit spending by paying to remediate disparities when they are harder and more expensive to do so."
The results are already visible. The United States has fallen from first to eighteenth in high school graduation rates among industrialized countries, while losing $192 billion in income and tax revenue for each new batch of 18-year-olds without a high school degree. Closing the achievement gap with other nations could have added as much as $2.3 trillion to the GDP in 2008 alone. Studies show that as much as half of the gap in achievement scores is attributable to cognitive and behavioral setbacks already evident by the age of five.
In partnership with the Children's Defense Fund, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is sponsoring the Foundations for Success Act [FSA] in response to what is "a serious crisis in child care and early education that exists in our nation."
"As we struggle to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, too many American children do not receive the high quality early care they need," Sanders told The Nation. "The best way to both address our educational shortcomings and strengthen our economy over the long term is to invest in our children as early as we possibly can."
Sanders' legislative assistant told The Nation that the country "needs something bigger" than simply defending existing pre-K programs, since "less than half the households who are eligible for Head Start are receiving help." Sanders' plan establishes a grant program providing "universal, full day, full week, and full year programs" available to households with children age 6 weeks until kindergarten. The program would initially serve ten geographically diverse states across the country that fall significantly behind others in providing viable care services, but would ultimately expand to all fifty states in a long-term initiative to build upon existing efforts to improve the quality and affordability of early care.