Recycling Postwar Initiative

Urban League leader wants to apply Marshall Plan model to crumbling inner cities. SAVING US CITIES

NATIONAL Urban League president John Jacob is promoting an investment strategy for the United States that has already been proved successful in postwar Europe.Called a Marshall Plan for America, it involves the principle behind the US economic plan for Europe after World War II: a major infusion of capital to get a troubled economy back on its feet. The idea is to make the United States more globally competitive through a substantial long-term investment in its work force and deteriorating urban centers. At a time when the gap between the rich and poor in the US is widening, when roads and bridges are deteriorating, and when students are performing poorly on s tandardized tests, the nation needs a long-term economic game plan, Mr. Jacob says. "We have concluded that America's survival depends on developing a new spirit of national renewal," Mr. Jacob said in a speech at the annual meeting of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts earlier this month. "And we affirm long-ignored national values that bring a diverse people together for the common good. America needs to become a competitive, productive society that makes full use of all of its resources." The idea of a Marshall Plan for the US is not new, says Jacob. His idea is an outgrowth of the "Domestic Marshall Plan" proposed by Whitney Young Jr., in 1963. Mr. Young formerly was executive director of the National Urban League. Jacob envisions his own Marshall Plan as a 10-year, $500 billion investment program. It involves a $50 billion a year allocation of funds to help the disadvantaged and rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Specifically, funding would be targeted toward education and e mployment programs as well as toward improving the country's transportation and communications systems.

Western Europe rebuilt The Marshall Plan dedicated 2.9 percent of America's gross national product annually to rebuild Western Europe - for its own national interests, says Jacob. The plan helped America gain more influence to stop the spread of communism around the world while it also opened up a new market for American exports. The Marshall Plan for America aims to serve the national interest by revitalizing the US economy. "There are very real fears that unless we get our act together, America is going to become a second-rate power with a third-rate economy, a has-been nation with a declining standard of living," Jacob says. The plan should not be considered a social program, he explains, but an investment plan to restore our nation's economic preeminence and make it more competitive with other industrial nations like Japan and Germany. The Marshall Plan for America should also not be considered a "black plan" or a "special-interest plan." It is, however, a plan targeted to those most in need, says Jacob, and will inevitably help the poor within the African-American community.

Major strides taken "We have made tremendous strides in the face of terrible odds," he says. "We now have more African-American college graduates and professionals than ever before. But we also have more children who are poor and workers who can't get jobs. For every black mayor or corporate executive, there are dozens of young people with no skills.... young people who will wind up in the morgue or in prison unless they are given the opportunity to survive in a competitive economy." Corporate executives, community groups, and members of Congress are starting to talk about the idea, says Jacob. He originally proposed the notion almost two years ago and received merely a "cool reception," he says. But more people are listening now that the country is in a recession and politicians are urging President Bush to address Americans' domestic needs. Jacob envisions the plan funded through cuts in defense spending, transfer of funding from existing programs, debt refinancing, and taxes. Social policy experts and economists applaud the idea. Tim Saasta, director of communications at the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C., says his organization proposed a similar plan called "America's Third Deficit: Too Little Investment in People and Infrastructure." Robert Reich, a political economist at Harvard University, says he believes Jacob's plan is feasible. "With an economy one-quarter of what we have now, America rebuilt Europe," he says. "Why can't we do the same for our collapsing cities?"

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