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Report: Infrastructure Jobs Underplayed

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

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Infrastructure jobs account for 11 percent of U.S. employment, but the typical shovel-ready focus overlooks the much larger workforce needed for long-term operational jobs, a new report says.

Some 14.2 million U.S. workers perform a wide spectrum of infrastructure jobs, from highway construction to utilities to warehousing, according to "Beyond Shovel-Ready: The Extent and Impact of U.S. Infrastructure Jobs," a report from the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.

While construction workers may be the face of the infrastructure industry, they are only the tip of that iceberg, which policymakers need to realize when making investment and other decisions, according to the report's analysis of 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

© iStock / korayhoylu

The focus on shovel-ready projects "overlooks the full economic extent of our nation's infrastructure, particularly the sizable workforce that supports these systems over many years," the report says.

"Although construction jobs have frequently dominated the discussions on infrastructure, most workers in this sector concentrate on the long-term operation and maintenance of transportation, water, and energy systems instead," the report's authors, Joseph Kane, a Policy/Research Assistant, and Robert Puentes, a Senior Fellow, said in a blog post.

The report aims to define a more precise range of jobs in the occupations and industries that "play a distinct role in the design, construction, operation, and governance of the nation's infrastructure assets."

Where the Workers Are

Contrary to popular belief, infrastructure employment is concentrated in jobs that operate physical assets, rather than construct or install them, the report says.

In fact, only 15 percent were employed in construction and 6 percent in its design. The majority of workers (77 percent) held jobs that focused on operating infrastructure.

The focus on shovel-ready projects "overlooks the full economic extent of our nation's infrastructure, particularly the sizable workforce that supports these systems over many years," the authors note.

This is also evident in the 20 largest infrastructure occupations (out of 95 identified by the researchers), where 7.4 million people (or 81 percent) work in operations and only 1.3 million people (15 percent) work in construction.

Brookings Institution

About one in 10 workers in the U.S. has an infrastructure job, most of which are focused on operation, a new report says.

"Such ambiguity makes it difficult to develop targeted solutions in a time of political gridlock and constrained budgets," the authors say.

"Beyond investing in physical structures, then, policymakers need to ask whether the nation has the workforce necessary to tackle these pressing challenges."

Location, Location, Location

According to the report, the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas employed 9.1 million of these workers, and the three largest labor markets—New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—have more infrastructure workers (1.8 million) than the smallest 55 metropolitan areas combined.

These occupations span 42 industries and seven infrastructure sectors:

  • Intra-Metro Transportation, including local roads and bridges, public transit and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure;
  • Inter-Metro Transportation, including passenger rail, airports, highways and inter-urban and rural bus transportation;
  • Trade and Logistics, including freight rail, air cargo operations, seaports/inland waterways, transportation support, and warehousing and delivery services;
  • Energy, including natural gas pipeline, facilities responsible for electricity, and other utilities;
  • Water, including drinking water, stormwater, wastewater, water treatment facilities and "green" infrastructure for conserving natural resources;
  • Telecommunications, including broadband and transmission infrastructure; and
  • Public Works, including streetscapes, land redevelopment and waste/landfills.

Infrastructure jobs are projected to increase by 9.1 percent by 2022, according to the report. In addition, however, almost a quarter of the workforce (more than 2.7 million workers) will need to be replaced due to retirement and career changes.

Less Education, More Money

Overall, infrastructure offers competitive wages to other industries, with the lower end of the pay scale (10th and 25th percentiles) faring better overall than their counterparts in other occupations, according to the report.

Infrastructure workers at the upper end of the income spectrum earn slightly less on average than workers in all occupations.

Brookings Institution

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have more infrastructure workers than the smallest ion5 metropolitan areas combined.

These occupations also often have a bigger payout in median wages ($38,480) compared to the national average ($34,750).

However, these workers still tend to earn slightly less on average ($19.39 per hour or $40,970 annually) than workers in all occupations nationally ($22.01 per hour or $45,790 annually).

Generally, less formal education is needed to qualify for infrastructure jobs, and thus have lower barriers to entry, the report says.

While over 80 percent of workers employed in infrastructure jobs have short- to long-term on-the-job training, only 12 percent hold a bachelor's degree or higher.

According to the report, 57 percent of infrastructure workers hold a high school diploma or less.


Tagged categories: Building operations; Construction; Economy; Infrastructure; Market research; Worker training; Workers

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