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Faith Leaders Highlight How the American Jobs Plan Invests in U.S. Communities

Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses the Moral Action Congress of the Poor People's Campaign at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., June 2019.

“When we create jobs that pay living wages, lay the foundation for healthy communities, and invest in our public resources with an eye toward equity and justice for all, we are treating our neighbors with dignity.”

the Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life Action, on the American Jobs Plan

Faith leaders, through their connections with their communities and congregations, know firsthand that for the United States to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers cannot simply address its immediate effects; they must work to build a stronger economy and social fabric in order to address the structural issues that existed before the crisis. That is why Faith in Public Life Action’s network of 50,000 faith leaders, as well as other faith leaders across the country, are advocating for Congress to enact the American Jobs Plan—which the Rev. Butler calls “an opportunity to deliver big for our communities.”

The plan, proposed by President Joe Biden in March, is the type of bold effort that would create good jobs in sectors that unlock inclusive and sustainable growth. Economic policies such as this are truly progressive, affirming the dignity of all workers and allowing families to thrive by increasing opportunity.

The American Jobs Plan makes a $2 trillion investment in U.S. communities, which the Center for American Progress has called “the most significant investment in good jobs since the New Deal.” It is projected to create more than 15 million good-paying jobs and put Americans to work for the betterment of society. The plan calls for employing Americans to make 20,000 miles of road repairs, upgrade thousands of public buses and trains, and modernize the U.S. electric grid—as well as guarantee that every American has access to affordable high-speed internet. In addition, the plan would make major investments in the green economy and end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, while also committing to ending gun violence and caring for the most vulnerable in society.

As Congress begins to consider the American Jobs Plan, faith leaders are highlighting how its investments in communities matter, by representing both the perspectives of the members of their congregations and the moral values of a fair economy. They have the vision to anticipate the transformation of the communities they serve, through landmark investments in violence prevention programs, a more livable climate, and tangible progress toward an America in which no one needs to work multiple jobs to feed their family. As Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said following the announcement of Biden’s plan, “Now is the time for a once-in-a-century investment to rebuild the middle class, address economic inequality, transition to a clean energy economy, and deliver justice for Americans who have been systemically excluded from our economy, including communities of color and rural communities.”

The American Jobs Plan would invest in the green economy

The plan proposes investments to build a stronger, more resilient, and more just economy that better honors God’s creation. Notably, the plan directs 40 percent of all the benefits of investment to disadvantaged communities, primarily those who have suffered from a toxic legacy of racism, pollution, or both. $213 billion would go toward building sustainable, energy-efficient, and affordable housing constructed to withstand the climate crisis, with an emphasis on disadvantaged communities. Another $174 billion would go toward electrifying the nation’s transportation system, while $85 billion would be directed toward modernizing and expanding public transit systems. Faith-based environmental activists support these investments, understanding the need to orient the U.S. economy toward inclusive, equitable, and sustainable growth.

Tori Goebel, national organizer and spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, said in reaction to the American Jobs Plan, “The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted intense, historic inequalities and it is abundantly clear that our current systems are deeply flawed. This is a unique moment to boldly transform our society and create a better future.”

The Rev. Susan Hendershot, president of Interfaith Power & Light, shared similar sentiments:

As people of faith and conscience, we are tasked with building a more just world—one that is in line with our moral values of protecting our most vulnerable siblings and being faithful stewards of the Earth. We have an extraordinary and historic opportunity to invest in the future we envision, with a safer climate, an equitable and inclusive economy, and modern clean energy infrastructure that improves our daily lives.

The American Jobs Plan would honor the dignity of work

Americans work hard and support the economy in many ways. That work must be valued. Some religious groups are celebrating the fact that the American Jobs Plan would not only create millions of new jobs but also create jobs that would pay well and honor the dignity of work. Faith leaders are speaking to the basic moral values that undergird progressive economic policies, including that no one should have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and that workers should have a say in how their workplaces function. At a recent press conference organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, Rabbi Victor Urecki of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Charleston, West Virginia, said:

Millions are living in poverty, working two or three jobs because wages are so low … There is darkness that is engulfing America. And those in power either do not want to see the pain of those who struggle in the dark or will not leave their homes and extend their arms to the needy.

The American Jobs Plan presents an opportunity to move the country toward greater economic fairness by eliminating the subminimum wage; requiring companies that hold federal contracts to remain neutral during union organizing campaigns and to pay prevailing wages to their contract workers; demanding that employers benefiting from the plan’s investments follow workplace laws; and calling for increased penalties when employers violate workplace safety and health rules. The plan would invest $48 billion in American workforce development infrastructure and $40 billion in a new Dislocated Workers Program and sector-based training, including clean energy, manufacturing, and caregiving.

The plan also calls on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would strengthen and expand the rights of workers to form unions, bargain collectively, and engage in collective action without fear of their employers retaliating against them. Faith leaders are advocating for the passage of the PRO Act. A recent letter, signed by more than 80 faith leaders as of early May, states:

Drawing on our sacred scriptures and religious traditions, we believe workers should be free to join together in solidarity to make their voices heard, and to improve their lives and the lives of their families. … Through the PRO Act, the lives of tens of millions of workers would improve, as well as the lives of their families; and communities would be stabilized for generations to come.

The American Jobs Plan would use a racial justice lens to invest in transportation

A fair economy is one in which all people can participate equally, free from the discrimination that plagues too many U.S. communities. The Biden administration has made a strong commitment to racial equity as part of its investments in national infrastructure. The American Jobs Plan, according to the White House, “is designed with equity in mind and to set up America for the future. Too often, past transportation investments divided communities – like the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans or I-81 in Syracuse – or it left out the people most in need of affordable transportation options.” The plan calls for a $20 billion program that would advance racial equity by reconnecting neighborhoods, where people of color predominantly live, that previous investments in public transportation cut off from economic opportunities.

“Throughout history, public investments have excluded people of color, but this plan names racial equity as a priority in transportation and climate change investments,” said the Rev. Butler. “People of faith understand that a just future involves remedying the injustices of the past.”

The American Jobs Plan would invest in preventing gun violence

Over eight years, the plan would invest $5 billion in community-based programs to prevent gun violence. These programs seek to address gun violence as a public health crisis rather than through more law enforcement, and they would target economically disadvantaged neighborhoods where gun violence disproportionately affects people of color. Faith-based organizations and religious leaders have been on the front lines of such programs and are some of the most vocal proponents of these American Jobs Plan investments: “It’s been a barn burning, whirlwind effort to kind of bring them [administration officials] along, and they have showed up in a way that I believe is historic,” said Pastor Michael McBride, director of Faith in Action’s LIVE FREE campaign, about the plan.

And in a joint statement, Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence co-chairs Sandy Sorenson, of the United Church of Christ, and Dorian Karp, of Jewish Women International, told CAP over email in April 2021: “People of faith know firsthand the devastation that gun violence causes to our communities, and that’s why we are deeply engaged in healing our communities through violence prevention programs. Faith communities around the nation are encouraged by the Biden administration’s inclusion of $5 billion for gun violence prevention in the American Jobs Act.”

Kelly Sampson, senior counsel and director of racial justice at Brady: United Against Gun Violence, said of the plan:

By investing in communities and in evidence-based programs, we can prevent violence without policing or penalizing those most impacted by gun violence. This is an evidence-based public health approach. After activists and organizations on the frontlines of this crisis, particularly Black and Brown activists, have called for this approach and funding for decades, it is gratifying to have a partner in the White House who will listen to those voices, to public health experts, and to survivors.

The American Jobs Plan would invest in the care economy

A just economy is one that invests in the well-being of all people and creates jobs that make society more inclusive and sustainable. One of the most effective ways that the American Jobs Plan does this is by calling for Congress to invest $400 billion over eight years in expanding access to quality, affordable home- or community-based care for aging relatives and people with disabilities.

According to Cecelia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers for the Biden administration, the United States needs to “upgrade our definition of infrastructure” to include the care economy.

This is an area in which faith communities, which prioritize supporting the most vulnerable in society, are primed to provide leadership. The National Council of Jewish Women said in a statement: “As an organization devoted to improving the lives of women, children, and families, we applaud the president’s commitment to the care economy, which we know is disproportionately shouldered by women and women of color.” Caregivers earn an average of $12 an hour, and one-third of those working for agencies do not receive health insurance.

Broad percentages of religious Americans support the Biden administration’s proposal

Religious leaders are joined by many in their communities in supporting the community investments proposed in the American Jobs Plan. Religious Americans broadly support these investments, both as a package and individually. An April 2021 Politico/Morning Consult poll of registered voters showed that 57 percent of Christians and 80 percent of people of other faiths support the plan overall.

Figure 1 illustrates how different religious communities view the major components of the plan.

Figure 1

Corporate taxes should be raised to fund the American Jobs Plan

Everyone should share in America’s economic growth, and corporations must meet their obligations to society. The Biden administration has called for the American Jobs Plan to be paid for by raising corporate tax rates. As the social principles of the United Methodist Church state, “Corporations are responsible not only to their stockholders, but also to other stakeholders: their workers, suppliers, vendors, customers, the communities in which they do business, and for the earth, which supports them.”

In a tweet thread supporting the American Jobs Plan, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice invoked Pope Francis to stress the responsibility of corporations:

As @Pontifex [Pope Francis] wrote in his encyclical Fratelli tutti, “The mere sum of individual interests is not capable of generating a better world for the whole human family.” We must come together to make public investments in the common good. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time to build a new economy, where wealthy people and corporations contribute the most to public investments.

A letter to President Biden from 20 Christian leaders who make up the Circle of Protection and collectively represent close to 100 million Americans, echoed similar themes: “The chasm between rich and poor in our country has widened over the past decade – especially during the pandemic, even as child hunger has soared. … it’s only right that more be required of those to whom much has been given (Luke 12:48).”

Conclusion

As members of Congress consider the Biden administration’s proposal, they should do so knowing the broad support that the American Jobs Plan has among faith-based organizations and religious Americans. Its investments in U.S. communities would be transformative in building a safer and more inclusive nation with a more sustainable economy that honors the dignity of all workers who contribute to its success.

“The American Jobs Plan dreams to leave no one behind this time and to create a healthier, clean and vibrant future for all of us today and for generations to come,” said the Rev. Mitch Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, in reaction to the announcement of the plan. “That’s a dream and a hope that we should all pray and work for. I know I am.”

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Maggie Siddiqi is the senior director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center.