A 25-year high in unemployment benefits nationally? A surreal 54 percent increase in unemployment claims in Maine over the past year? Automakers pleading for rescue? A stock market stuck in perpetual free-fall?

Congress must do more than consider an “economic stimulus” package in an upcoming lame-duck session. It should consider what works as a long-term solution to provide stability in the nation’s flagging employment market.

Investments in infrastructure programs seems to be gaining traction, and rightly so. The middling outcome of the first stimulus plan, which cut checks to all taxpayers, preaches the wisdom of investing in something, rather than simply throwing money around.

At the time those checks were received, oil and gasoline were peaking at record levels while consumer confidence dipped. Too many Americans filled tanks or bank accounts with those funds to fulfill lofty expectations for success.

Let’s not repeat the mistake.

An infrastructure stimulus would work better on two fronts. It would put Americans to work, on many levels, while also funding projects that, with massive deficits on the state level, would likely be postponed or scrapped.

This latter scenario is most dangerous. The nation’s infrastructure requires investment; too much improvement or maintenance has already been delayed. A federal focus on these projects could make up for lost time.

The visceral effect also cannot be discounted. The odor of wasted wealth emanating from Wall Street has soured Americans into thinking their money – especially from the controversial $700 billion bailout – is being tossed into a black hole, never to be seen again.

Taxpayers should see they’re getting something for the money. An infrastructure program could restore this confidence, by building brick-and-mortar reminders that American ingenuity and ability is alive and well.

It’s a psychic boost that could certainly help going forward, too.

The time for quick stimulation has passed; the economic problems of the United States are beyond simple solutions. We need an approach with definitive, long-term goals.

No more trying to avoid the fall. It’s time to plan for survival.

An infrastructure program, as an economic policy, is a wise step in that direction.

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