Increasing Infrastructure Spending Merely Shuffles Jobs

November 25, 2013

Prominent members of Congress, such as Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA), have called for substantially increasing infrastructure spending to create jobs. They claim that spending tens of billions of dollars repairing bridges and roads would significantly reduce unemployment and stimulate the economy. But these calls misunderstand the nature of infrastructure construction work, says James Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

  • Infrastructure projects are capital intensive, not labor intensive.
  • Road and bridge construction requires a relatively small number of highly skilled workers using advanced equipment and machinery.
  • Across the United States, just over 300,000 Americans work in highway, street or bridge construction -- less than the population of Wichita, Kansas.
  • Furthermore, many workers on these jobs need advanced skills to effectively and safely use construction equipment and very few unemployed workers have the skills necessary to work on infrastructure projects.
  • Just 8.5 percent of the unemployed previously worked in an occupation heavily utilized in highway, street or bridge construction.

Additional infrastructure spending would consequently employ relatively few unemployed workers. Instead, federal construction contractors would hire the skilled workforce they need away from private construction projects. New jobs created would come primarily at the expense of other jobs in the private sector.

Further, the states best know their highway and bridge maintenance and rehabilitation priorities. Funneling resources from the states to Washington and back to the states promotes a Washington-centric approach to infrastructure needs. Spending decisions should be made by states based on the condition of existing infrastructure and future capacity needs -- not by Washington on the basis of economic conditions.

Source: James Sherk, "Additional Infrastructure Spending Would Employ Few New Workers," Heritage Foundation, November 7, 2013.

 

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