The next time you read in the newspaper or hear on TV that there is a shortage of construction workers and we have to import tens of thousands of workers from abroad in order to have enough construction labor, remember this memo from Jason Furman, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers:
“Construction employment rose by 11,000 in October and is up 185,000 over the past year, but remains 1.9 million jobs below its previous peak, underscoring the importance of continued strengthening in housing markets and investments in infrastructure. Of the 185,000 increase in construction employment over the past year, the bulk (104,000) is in residential construction, while 65,000 are in non-residential construction, and 16,000 are in heavy and civil engineering construction. The gains in residential construction are consistent with the recovery we have seen unfolding in the housing sector, but additional steps still must be taken to create a more durable and fair system that promotes responsible homeownership. Moreover, the fact that employment in non-residential and heavy and civil engineering construction has grown slowly is an important reminder that we should also be looking for opportunities to invest in America’s roads, bridges, and schoolhouses.”
Furman is exactly right: we need more construction work—more investment in America’s roads bridges and schoolhouses—a position EPI has held for the last five years. Congress should pass the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Back to Work Budget, which would add $800 billion in new infrastructure spending between 2014 and 2018 over current authorization levels, and meet the basic needs outlined by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Congress should be funding hundreds of billions of dollars of new infrastructure now, when interest rates are near all-time lows, rather than saddling our children and grandchildren with the bill for rescuing our underfinanced and outmoded transportation system from ruin.
We have the workers. They have the skills. What they need is work.