WOULD INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT CREATE JOBS THAT LAST?
By Kevin Wilcox
March 21, 2017—A possible infrastructure investment package
that leverages several hundred billion dollars in federal funds into
$1 trillion over 10 years via public-private partnerships—as has
been proposed by President Trump—has the potential to create 11
million jobs, primarily in the engineering and construction
sectors, according to new research by the Georgetown University
Center on Education and the Workforce.
The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce decided
to examine the implications of such a program because
infrastructure is an area with the potential for broad, bipartisan
support given the problems that the United States is experiencing
from decades of what is viewed as underinvestment. The center
consulted macroeconomists and economic modeling experts to
discern the possible effects of this level of investment.
One of the key findings is that such an infrastructure package would
make up for the "missing jobs," that is, the jobs that disappeared during the Great Recession and never returned.
Although the economy has been creating jobs since 2011, the total number of jobs has stubbornly lagged behind the
level that economists would have expected had there been no recession by about 6.4 million. The jobs market has had
trouble closing this gap for seven years.
Although a majority—55 percent—of the jobs created by new infrastructure investment would go to workers with a
high school diploma or less, according to the center, engineers and other white-collar workers in the industry would
fill 13 percent of those jobs, which translates into 1.42 million new positions.
"When you think of infrastructure jobs, the image in your mind is … a guy out there with a hard hat and a shovel, with
gloves on his hands, doing very hard work. What we … don't see are the people who are sitting in the offices," says
Nicole Smith, Ph.D., a chief economist at the Georgetown center. "I think what was surprising was the extent to which
there are white-collar infrastructure jobs."
However, the bulk of the jobs would go to workers who never attended college, a group that was hit particularly hard
during the recession and has had the most difficult time during the recovery. Smith says that close to 24 percent of the
jobs would go to people with some college education. "So, the great majority of jobs will be for people without formal
associate or bachelor's degrees," says Smith.
Smith and Anthony P. Carnevale, Ph.D., the director of the Georgetown Center, coauthored the report, Trillion Dollar
Infrastructure Proposals Could Create Millions of Jobs. The study notes that a significant increase in the amount of
infrastructure work available would encounter two challenges. The first would be the need to train new workers for
jobs in the field, which is growing increasingly complex. The second would be structuring the funding and financing
so that, as spending wound down, workers wouldn't be left unemployed again and with nontransferable skills.
One of the biggest challenges, Smith says, is pairing the long-term unemployed and those who have been displaced
with effective training and apprenticeship programs so that they can acquire the skills they need to fill the infrastructure
jobs effectively. This is especially critical because some 2 million experienced workers—potential mentors to new
workers—left the industry during the recession and haven't returned.
Once the jobs are filled, "what is very much missing … [is a] continuation plan. Once we have regrouped and we've
rebuilt the infrastructure, then where are injections of money [to come from] and how is it going to continue through
time to make sure these people don't become, once again, displaced once the money runs out?" Smith asks.
"We don't want an infrastructure jobs boom to be a false dawn for male high school graduates who have already been
left behind by recent economic change," said Carnevale, in a January press release announcing the report.
Smith notes that workers who obtained certifications during any jobs boom would probably fare the best as an
infrastructure program wound down. For instance, someone who became a certified construction manager or a
technician skilled in testing concrete strength would find that his certification remained in demand after an
infrastructure project was finished.
"The onus is on the individual to decide whether or not they want to enroll in some sort of program that gives you a
certificate or certification of value by the time you graduate," Smith says. "The question is, can we create incentives
for the individuals to actually enroll in those programs as well?"
Original Article: www.asce.org/magazine/20170321-would-infrastructure-investment-create-jobs-that-last-/