Rising average global temperatures are already affecting the United States and the world. With increases in temperature come increases in the severity of hurricanes, extreme heat, and droughts, which threaten the safety of coastal communities, the health of sensitive groups, and the productivity of agriculture. Addressing climate change requires an immediate reduction in emissions of CO2 and methane, greenhouse gases which trap heat in the atmosphere, as well as intentional protection of forests and oceans, carbon sinks which naturally absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
By investing in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, and reducing energy consumption through energy efficient technology, we can reduce our emissions while also creating jobs in fast growing sectors of the economy. Additionally, modernizing waste management practices to divert organic waste into composting facilities stands to prevent a full 18% of methane emissions, which are currently caused by decomposing organic waste in landfills. Complementing a reduction in emissions, management and protection of our forests and oceans will support their natural role of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, while also supporting wildlife and biodiversity.
America’s infrastructure needs maintenance and improvement, across the country and particularly in historically underserved communities. Infrastructure includes our systems of transportation, solid waste, water treatment, schools, and parks, which combined received a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017, calling for increased investment and innovation.
Of particular importance to New Jersey is the Gateway Program, a massive public works project to construct a new rail tunnel connecting New Jersey to New York City. The new tunnel would replace the existing 100-year-old tunnel, which is in urgent need of repairs from age and salt-water damage from Hurricane Sandy. Despite Trump’s rhetoric, which promises investment in infrastructure, his commitment to fund the federal share of funding for this project has wavered. Carrying 800,000 passengers per day, the Hudson River tunnel is a critical piece of regional and national infrastructure, which needs an immediate guarantee of federal funding contributions.
The impacts of investments in railway infrastructure extend far beyond those dependent on trains for their daily commute. Public transportation usage, especially of the scale of train ridership in New Jersey, reduces car traffic and improves air quality for all residents. Expanding the number of trains and buses traveling within New Jersey and into New York City is necessary to address serious air quality issues faced by our district. From 2013 to 2015, Morris and Essex counties received F ratings for air quality, with Passaic county receiving a D rating. Providing more public transit options is a guaranteed means of lowering automobile exhaust, thereby improving the quality of air we breathe. Additionally, state programs to lower public transportation costs on days with air quality alerts can incentivize public transit use to decrease emissions on high-risk days.
The United States is a country of immigrants, made great by immigrants. Immigration makes the United States a more dynamic and interesting place to live, while also contributing to economic growth and innovation. Threatening deportation, building walls, and increasing ICE presence makes the lives of undocumented and documented immigrants more dangerous without addressing root causes of undocumented migration.
We must end deportations and threats of deportations of law-abiding residents, who have known no other country but the United States. Congress must pass the DREAM Act to grant permanent residency to those brought to the US as children, including those registered with DACA and those not. Dreamers are an integral part of America and should not be used as bargaining chips in extraneous policy debates or broader immigration reform.
Broader conversations of immigration reform and border security should be based in factual understandings of immigration. Importantly, only half of undocumented migrants in the US crossed the border illegally, the other half arrive legally through official points of entry and overstay their entry period. Additionally, of those apprehended by Border Patrol in 2016, less than half were from Mexico. The national focus on reducing undocumented populations by targeting Mexican migrants through increased border security does not match the reality of contemporary migration, and policy proposals based on this misrepresentation of migration will not address their stated purpose.
Rather than further criminalize migrant populations, leaving them vulnerable to violence and exploitation, we must address the processes by which individuals obtain visas for legal entry, apply for asylum, and become permanent residents. All discussions of policy changes must begin with a better understanding of migration, which we currently lack due to insufficient monitoring and data on which populations are overstaying visas and why. Collecting sufficient information is a critical first step to immigration policy reform.
The top 1 percent of American income-earners currently earn 20 percent of all income, with the majority of increases in real income over the past decade going to these high earners. Wealth concentration paints an even starker picture of inequality in the US. When considering all of one’s assets minus debts, the top 1% of Americans own 42% of wealth, with the bottom 90% owning only 23% of wealth. Addressing this extreme concentration helps the economy overall, as additional income for lower earners allows for more investment in education and reduces the need for risky borrowing.
There are many avenues to address inequality: through wages, education, and taxes. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour is a critical step in addressing inequality and poverty. A full time worker, making the current New Jersey minimum wage makes only $18,000 per year. No one working a full-time job should live in poverty, raising the minimum wage to $15 increases the annual salary of a full-time worker to about $31,000.
Additionally, those working and middle class students who pursue higher education should not graduate so burdened with debt that they are unable to save or purchase homes. We can expand and clarify student loan forgiveness programs and decrease interest rates on federal student loans, which can reach up to 7% adding thousands of dollars onto already high levels of educational debt.
Lastly, taxes should generate sufficient revenue to cover national expenditures in infrastructure, military, education, energy transitions and other critical government programs without overburdening lower income earners. The GOP tax bill, which lowers taxes for corporations and high income earners, is a step in the wrong direction for both equality and the federal budget, and stands to hurt New Jersey tax payers particularly hard by limiting state and property tax deductions. We need a tax system in which wealthy and corporations pay their fair share, in order to adequately fund public services without overburdening middle income earners.
Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: https://academic.oup.com/qje/article/131/2/519/2607097
The history of race relations in the United States is a history of violence against Black communities. This violence occurs in many arenas, including the criminal justice system, economic and educational experiences, and environmental degradation and safety. We must acknowledge and address different forms of institutional violence in order to create a more just society.
The past five years have seen overdue media attention and organizing around issues of over-policing in Black communities, mass incarceration, and use of excessive force toward Black individuals. The statistics on arrests, use of force, and sentencing paint a damning picture of the role of race in the US criminal justice system.
At the national level, Black individuals, compared to other Americans, are arrested at higher rates, face more severe charges, are more likely to be convicted, and are served harsher sentences when convicted. Based on data provided by the 50 largest police departments, Black individuals in these jurisdictions were two and half times more likely to be shot by police than white people, with a quarter of shootings occurring when the suspect was unarmed.
The system of policing and arrests in the US has created a distrust and avoidance of the police by the community, with negative consequences for both parties. While the scope of unequal treatment in the justice system is vast, there are concrete, immediate steps we can take to begin to address aspects of the problem. Critically, we need comprehensive, national data on the use of force by police in order to structure and focus intervention, including the use of body cameras, de-escalation training, and consistent investigations and consequences for police alleged of wrongdoing.
On the individual level, conviction and incarceration have lifelong consequences, for health, employment, and political participation, while massive increases in public spending on prisons detract from funding public goods like education. Reforming the criminal justice system will require massive changes to the methods of policing, trying, and convicting people of crimes, as well as re-defining what constitutes a prison-worthy crime.
The legacy of legal discrimination and institutionalized racism continues to have concrete economic consequences for Black Americans. Differences in pay and unemployment rates means that the median income for Black-headed households is over $25,000 less than white-headed households. The difference is even greater when considering wealth, where median net worth is 13 times higher for white households than Black households.
Unequal access in the educational system plays an important role in these diverging life outcomes. From as early as four years old, Black Pre-K students are 3.6 times more likely than white students to be suspended from school, a pattern which continues into K-12 where Black students are 3.8 times more likely to receive out of school suspensions and more than twice as likely to be referred to law-enforcement than their white classmates. In addition, predominantly Black schools suffer from chronic underfunding, which decreases the curricular opportunities and resources available to students and teachers.
Students should not be forced to overcome such barriers to success in our public education system. The availability of detailed information on school funding, resources, discipline, and performance is a critical first step in closing the racial gap in educational opportunities. Based on these data, we must reform within school policies on discipline, suspension, and expulsion and allocate funding such that student opportunities from early childhood are not restricted based on the racial composition of their schools.
Environmental Beyond the education system, communities of color face environmental hazards above those of their white counterparts. Particularly, low-income communities of color face greater levels of air pollution, closer proximity to toxic waste, increased likelihood of lead poisoning, and decreased access to safe drinking water. In addition, climate change stands to affect Black and low-income communities as government support following natural disasters fails to provide adequate compensation to rebuild and restore the homes and livelihoods of those affected.
Addressing climate change and infrastructure is intricately connected to addressing racial disparities in the United States. Communities of color bear the cost of current pollution levels as well as future climatic changes. Investment in upgrading our water, waste, and energy infrastructure to reduce harmful health and environmental consequences is simultaneously environmental and racial justice.
The Sentencing Project - http://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Black-Lives-Matter.pdf
Anti-Defamation League - https://www.adl.org/education/resources/reports/state-of-white-supremacy#introduction
Pew Research Center - http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/06/27/1-demographic-trends-and-economic-well-being/
Us Department of Education - https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/2013-14-first-look.pdf
The cost of healthcare in the United States makes insurance an absolute requirement for most Americans to afford medical treatment. As such, ensuring all Americans have access to quality health insurance is critical for keeping our population healthy without compromising people’s financial security. The number of uninsured Americans has dropped significantly since the introduction of health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, from over 13% uninsured in 2013 to under 9% in 2016. With increases in health coverage associated with reductions in child and adult mortality rates, continuing to decrease this number of uninsured Americans will have tangible positive outcomes for our society.
The majority of insured Americans are covered by private insurance, with 55.7% receiving plans through employment and 16.2% directly purchasing private plans in 2016. An additional 37% had government insurance plans, either military, Medicare, or Medicaid. An expansion of Medicare could further decrease the uninsured rate in the US and provide security for those on employer health insurance should they lose their job or fall below full-time employment. Expanding Medicare to be available to anyone wishing to purchase government health insurance, not just those over 65, is a major step to ensuring healthcare access for all Americans regardless of income or employment status.
With the option to purchase federal insurance, those working part time or searching for work, entrepreneurs starting a new business, professionals looking to gain additional training or certifications, or caregivers taking time off to care for a young child or sick relative, can have the flexibility to do so knowing they and their families have a healthcare option outside of full-time employment.