Putting Disadvantaged Americans Back to Work is the American Thing to do

Though the task may seem daunting, there is a way to turn around our country's widespread unemployment and underemployment. The answer is actually right in front of us. Our nation's vast network of transportation systems is a key component to putting Americans back to work.
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July 2, just two days before the anniversary of our nation's independence, is "Buy Made in the USA" Day. During this most patriotic of American weeks, we should be celebrating the American dream -- that idea that with a little hard work, anyone can build a solid, middle-class lifestyle for themselves and their family. Instead, we have to face the fact that there are millions living paycheck to paycheck -- or without a paycheck at all -- who can't afford time-honored summer traditions like taking a family vacation or hosting a simple backyard barbecue.

Though the task may seem daunting, there is a way to turn around our country's widespread unemployment and underemployment. The answer is actually right in front of us. Our nation's vast network of transportation systems is a key component to putting Americans back to work.

Every year, billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on the upkeep of mass transit and passenger rail systems through the purchase of new rail cars and buses. Yet, thanks to insufficient procurement rules, local and state transportation authorities often award new car and bus manufacturing contracts to lower-road companies that fail to invest in middle class jobs and maximize U.S. job creation. Meanwhile, we still have communities with high unemployment rates and segments of our population -- including single parents and veterans -- that can't find good jobs. There is a better way.

Major metropolitan cities like Washington, D.C., Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Boston and Denver have all announced plans to modernize the fleets in their public transit and rail systems, potentially paving the way for the creation of thousands of U.S. jobs. Amtrak also plans to spend billions to modernize its fleet, and the California High Speed Rail system will be spending massive public resources on state-of-the-art equipment. This is a market-making moment for America.

But when it comes to generating American-based transportation manufacturing jobs that support American communities, the policies that govern these purchases need reform. We should be rewarding high-road employers that invest in U.S. manufacturing, create new economic opportunity, train their workers and target hiring to those in disadvantaged communities.

Creating manufacturing jobs in America just makes sense: domestic sourcing of components and subcomponents of buses and trains creates at least 26 percent more jobs than if we settle for the 60-percent Buy America requirements found in some of our federal rules. If we can execute this new approach to procurement on a national scale, about 22,000 Americans will be working within a few years. I know what you're thinking: this makes too much sense.

That's why in 2013 TTD teamed up with Jobs to Move America, a diverse coalition of labor, faith, community and environmental leaders, to promote policies that enable transit agencies and policy makers across the country to purchase high-quality buses and trains while incentivizing domestic manufacturing and workforce development.

By encouraging bus and train manufacturers to make their products in the United States, we can create good, middle-class jobs, revitalize downtrodden communities and boost our nation's overall economy. Given the decades of bad policies and neglect that have hollowed out our nation's transportation manufacturing base -- and by extension, our middle class -- this initiative is more important now than ever before.

This July 4th can't just be another holiday. It is an opportunity to challenge elected officials to recognize the untapped potential for job creation that surrounds them -- and to focus on reforming the rules to ensure that when U.S. public resources are used to purchase rail cars and buses, we maximize U.S. job creation. It's time policymakers realize that patriotism isn't just about honoring our nation's history. It's about keeping our communities and country strong. And it's about building up the American middle class by returning America to a country that builds things and leads the way in developing the next generation of transportation manufacturing innovations right here at home.

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