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EconomicPolicyInstitute March 14, 2013

Infrastructure investments will have an outsized impact on job creation among Latinos and African Americans, according to a new issue brief from EPI Director of Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy Algernon Austin.

In Infrastructure Investments and Latino and African American Job Creation, Austin outlines how infrastructure investments can help create jobs among people of color, who were disproportionally hard hit by the recession.

“While the government should be focusing on a return to full employment, we must also look at ways to close the unemployment gap between white workers and people of color,” said Austin. “We know that the right infrastructure investments can help reduce these gaps, and I strongly encourage President Obama and members of Congress to take this into account when looking at how to create jobs.”

In the fourth quarter of 2012, unemployment among non-Hispanic whites was 6.0 percent, 2.3 percentage points higher than it was at the start of the recession. Meanwhile unemployment among Latinos was 9.7 percent (3.9 percentage points higher than at the start of the recession) and unemployment among African Americans was 13.4 percent (a full 5 percentage points higher than prerecession levels).

Infrastructure spending has a big job-creation bang for each dollar spent. In addition to construction, infrastructure investments create demand for manufacturing, transportation and administrative jobs. Latinos are more likely to work in construction and transportation occupations, and thus tend to benefit from infrastructure investments. African Americans, although less often employed in construction, are well represented in manufacturing, transportation and administrative occupations. Additionally, more jobs are created when newly employed workers spend their earnings on new consumer goods, at restaurants and so forth.

“In addition to the positive impact that infrastructure projects have on minority employment, this analysis shows the particular value of creating green jobs, not only in terms of economic progress but also in addressing long-term public health concerns in communities of color,” said Ralph B. Everett, President and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Infrastructure repair and construction are also sorely needed. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States’ infrastructure a D grade. There has never been a better moment to simultaneously address our desperate need for infrastructure investments and work on narrowing the persistently high employment gap between white workers, Latino workers and African American workers.

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