Jesse Jackson: President Biden’s State of the Union

by Jesse Jackson Sr.

(—Joe Biden’s State of the Union featured good news. He had much to report—record job growth, record low unemployment, inflation down, and new efforts underway to rebuild our infrastructure, move to renewable energy and start to bring jobs back home.

What he didn’t say, however, is that the United States has fallen behind. We are number one in the world in guns but trailing most industrial countries in basic social needs.

We are number one in military spending, arms exports, and conflicts abroad. We are number one in the number of guns, the number of gun deaths, and in prisoners per population.

According to the Social Progress Index, however, on 50 social progress indicators we are the only advanced industrial country to decline over the last nine years, and we rank now 28 of 163 countries measured.

We’re not even in the top 20 in nutrition and basic medical care (44th), in maternal mortality (73), in health and wellness (33) in personal safety (48, behind Bosnia and Serbia). We’ve witnessed decline in water and sanitation, in shelter and housing, in basic and advanced education and in personal rights and inclusiveness since 2011. Our life expectancy, which has been declining, now ranks about 46th in the world.

As reported by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 14.5 percent of children are raised in poverty. Eleven million families pay more than half their income in rent. Twenty-eight million still lack health care. We are alone among advanced countries without a national paid leave policy, without a universal childcare system. We spend twice as much per capita as most industrial countries on health care and get far worse results.

With Republicans now a majority in the Congress, few think much will get done in Washington. After running up over $7 trillion in deficits under Donald Trump without a murmur, Republicans are suddenly up in arms about debt—although not so concerned that they are willing to raise taxes on the very rich. To date, their announced plans focus mostly on partisan investigations, and obstruction—plus threats to default on our debt which would savage the economy.

Biden should have used his address to lay out a plan—and to call the Congress to act. We need to invest in children, so every child has a chance. Extending the Child Tax Credit to low-income workers and the poor would be a good first step.

We need to invest in workers. National paid family and medical leave, funding for childcare and early learning, a comprehensive unemployment system, an increased minimum wage, empowering workers to organize—this and more are needed so workers share in the profits they help to produce.

Too many neighborhoods in our cities are blighted by poverty, violence, and despair. Police act as occupiers with tragic results, as we witnessed once more in Memphis. There’s talk of spending tens of billions in a Marshall Plan to rebuild Ukraine —but before we do that, we need a Marshall Plan to rebuild our own cities, to ensure safe water, affordable housing, public transport, good schools, public parks and more.

We need to strengthen our democracy. Make voter registration automatic. Pass basic ground rules for elections to make voting easier, not harder. Put limits on big money in our politics. Revive the Voting Rights Act to protect the right to vote.

We are rich enough to afford this— Congress simply chooses not to do it, too often because members are more responsive to their donors than their voters. America deserves better.

In his first two years, President Biden has launched a major turn in policy. He has discarded the failed bipartisan globalization policies that shipped jobs abroad. He has made the case for rebuilding America and for meeting the challenge of climate change. But a real change of direction requires action over a series of years. And it requires convincing Americans to support the change —over entrenched and powerful interests, and over our bitter partisan divisions.

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