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Infrastructure Priorities for Racial Equity: Schools, Parks, and Jobs

Algernon Austin

This blog post adds details to “Infrastructure Priorities for Racial Equity: How The People’s Budget Helps and Trump’s Budget Hurts.” It is one of a series of blogs on the priority areas for infrastructure investments to achieve racial equity.

Achieve School Infrastructure Equity

On all measures, schools predominantly serving white students are of higher quality than schools predominantly serving students of color—including in terms of the physical school structures. The physical condition and resources available in a school have a significant impact on learning. Schools that are too hot or too cold, that lack proper lighting and ventilation, that have out-of-date computer technology and science equipment, that have many non-functioning bathrooms, and that need significant repairs (e.g., leaking roofs) make it more difficult for students to learn and succeed. Researchers have found clear class and race inequalities in spending on school infrastructure, with richer and whiter school districts being able to spend more than poorer and minority districts.

A new push for infrastructure spending should invest significantly in the schools in communities of color. These investments should be made with the awareness that students of color typically come from homes and neighborhoods with fewer and lower-quality educational resources than white students. These schools in communities of color therefore should have sufficient resources and should have facilities designed to try to compensate for the disadvantages faced by students of color.

Get People Active in Parks and Recreation Centers

Americans generally suffer from high rates of obesity. Obesity rates are even higher among Latinos and African Americans. These populations tend to have lower incomes and tend to be more urban than white populations. These conditions place limitations on their ability to get regular exercise and to have access to green open spaces. Medical researchers are increasingly recognizing that parks are part of our public health infrastructure. Safe and well-designed parks are places for exercise and for relief from the stressors of urban life. Investments in parks and recreation facilities in our cities are important investments for the health of communities of color.

Make Full Employment Possible for All Groups

A quarter-of-a-trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure could create as many as 3 million jobs. Today, policymakers are talking about investments of 4 and 8 times as much. For decades, the unemployment rates of people of color have been much higher than the white rate. Infrastructure investments have the potential to create an economy where every American who wants to work can have a job. Historically, this ability for everyone to find work has been limited to white people. We should take advantage of the opportunity provided by infrastructure investments to make certain that jobs reach high-unemployment communities of color.