(Developed from an article by Mark Schwartz published in Forbes to focus on jobs creation in the recovery.)
Many of America’s major infrastructure projects were developed between the 1930s and the 1950s to combat the effects of the Great Depression and jump-start the U.S. economy. This building spree helped to put Americans back to work and produced some of the major infrastructure projects across our country, including iconic Western structures such as the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge.
However, the America we knew then is not the America we know today. Over time, our population has surged, creating new demands on our infrastructure and new demands for employment. And in this moment, even more pressing needs exist due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has upended major sectors of the U.S. economy, including the construction industry.
In September and October 2020, 75% of contractors reported experiencing a project cancellation or postponement due to the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, this has equated to about $9.6 billion in projects brought to a standstill. Project delays and cancellations result in lowered employment, disrupted supply chains and decreased profits.
The pandemic has also put a major dent in the U.S. economy, erasing more than five years of growth, and causing national unemployment near 6.3% as of January 2021. The construction industry has experienced employment losses that far exceed the national average— unemployment in the sector reached 9.4% in January 2021. These losses have a twofold impact on the economy as less employment means less discretionary spending as well.
As the Biden-Harris administration determines the backbone of its Build Back Better campaign, including infrastructure as a major part of the plan would have the benefit of economic stimulation through jobs creation. An infrastructure bill would not only strengthen and modernize our infrastructure, it would also bring skilled workers back into the fold and help displaced workers enter stable career paths with ongoing opportunities for advancement.
Investing in infrastructure could also attract a younger generation to the construction workforce, helping to solve a labor shortage that has plagued the industry for the past several years. During the 2008 economic crash, 600,000 skilled construction workers permanently left the industry, and as of November 2020, there were approximately 236,000 vacant construction jobs, according to the U.S. Labor Bureau.
Because the pandemic has impacted employment for young adults aged 18 to 29, an investment in infrastructure could help employ that segment of the population while also bolstering the construction industry, which is seeing baby boomers retire.
Young adults could be further incentivized into joining the construction industry if they were aware of the industry’s new-found focus on technology, which today includes complex automation, robotics, and software. Technology is beginning to transform the construction industry, moving it from a tech laggard to a rapidly innovating tech front runner. This could help entice the next generation of workers, who are technologically capable and savvy.