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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

May 13, 2014 at 10:51 AM

The importance of infrastructure for jobs

Last week I lamented that Americans seem stuck with a mostly 1970-era infrastructure and lack the political will — certainly not the money, considering the trillions we blew on failed wars — to move forward. This is not the nation that built transcontinental railroads, the Interstate Highway System, the waterborne trade of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and the air transport system. All heavily subsidized.

Investing in 21st century infrastructure (not just “roads and bridges”) would not only maintain our global economic edge (which funds the giant military) but also create jobs. Even the largely legacy system we have now is a big employer, as shown by a new study from the Brookings Institution.

Infrastructure jobs, widely defined, account for 11 percent of national employment and the pay tends to be more equitable, including at the lower end of the earnings scale. Most jobs don’t require college degrees. Long-term operating jobs outnumber shorter-term construction work.

In Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, infrastructure and infrastructure-related jobs totaled 174,580 in 2012, 11th out of 100 metropolitan areas. In this diversified economy, they account for 11 percent of the total workforce. Metro Portland had 104,140 (24th) and Boise 26,620 (83rd).

Infrastructure is often sold as a way to help repair some of the deep damage to the construction labor market, the report states:

Although construction workers play a pivotal role building and maintaining infrastructure, this report shows they only compose a fraction of the entire workforce responsible for managing the nation’s physical assets. To help promote additional trade, move more passengers, ensure the efficient use of energy and water, and carry out other infrastructure-related activities, it is essential to gain a firmer understanding of the employment opportunities behind these investments.

I would add: Properly done, it will more than repay the investment. We’re still using infrastructure investments from the New Deal.

And Don’t Miss: About that labor-force participation rate | The Big Picture

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Who paid for coffee

When combined port leaders met?

No bitter brew, please

Comments | More in Infrastructure

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