15 Million Infrastructure Jobs: An Economic Shot in the Arm to the COVID-19 Recession

By Anthony P. Carnevale and Nicole Smith – Published March 2021 in Georgetown University CEWSubscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) drew from a great deal of research on the U.S. workforce, economics, education, governmental policies, etc., culminating in more than 70 references that became the basis for summarizing the many possible implications of spending $1.5 trillion (herein referred to as “the investment”) inside the current $2 trillion Biden-Harris infrastructure package. Here we summarize the summary.

Sixteen CEW staff members, along with “many others” who contributed “thoughts and feedback throughout the production of this report” collaborated to create this highly informative resource that describes the infrastructure package as “good economic medicine” to pull our country out of the COVID-19 recession.

Transformative Implications
If passed, the investment would transform our country’s transportation foundations and services on numerous fronts, along with our electric grid, Wi-Fi, schools, and water and sewer pipelines. It’s estimated to create about 15 million jobs over the next 10 years: 8 million jobs for people with high school diplomas or less, 4.8 million for people with more than a high school diploma and less than a bachelor’s degree, and 2.25 million jobs for people with a minimum of a bachelors’ degree. 

In addition: 

  • More than 7.5 million infrastructure jobs will be in transportation and material moving occupations.
  • Individuals with an associate degree or higher will fill about 50% of infrastructure managerial and office positions, and those with a high school diploma or less will fill construction jobs.  
  • Southeast and Pacific Coastal states will have the largest shares of the 15 million new infrastructure jobs.
  • Infrastructure jobs tend to wane after completion of infrastructure builds, so many of these jobs will likely be gone after 10 years. Nonetheless, the investment will temporarily catalyze the revitalization of our country’s blue-collar economy. 
  • Infrastructure jobs are 90% held by men, so an increased emphasis on including more women needs to become part of the overall package.   

As is always the case with any major legislative action, political impediments and hurdles exist. However, it seems that a bipartisan agreement can be reached because most of the population will favor a bill that repairs roads and bridges and expands broadband, “especially if state and local earmarks are allowed to entice individual senators and representatives.” 

These infrastructure jobs – estimated to employ many Latino and Black workers who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic – will require varying levels of training in order to keep pace with new skill demands. It is estimated that 40% of infrastructure jobs will require more than six months of training, and 60% of jobs will require six months of training or less. The lengthiest periods of training will be required of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Training Prep
Skill shortages, boomer retirements, a flattening of women’s labor force participation rates, and a general lack of capability to assesses and train potential workers could slow down the investment’s progress.  At the same time, workers will be enticed to reenter the labor force if the minimum wage is raised to $15 per hour for federal employees and employees of federal contractors, resulting in a substantial need to ramp up training programs. Two- and four-year colleges are poised to provide the training programs for infrastructure jobs “from single-day workshops and seminars to multi-year diploma and certificate programs.” Federal grants and loans, as well as the WIOA framework, will need to be expanded to better enable adults and underrepresented populations to enroll in such programs.  

Stimulating More Apprenticeships for Women
The number of registered apprenticeship programs are on the rise, and these programs can help meet the training needs of the investment, “especially if they coordinate with the broader sub-baccalaureate training system.” Another need exists to improve inclusiveness for women in apprenticeship programs. The COVID-19 economic downturn has disproportionately hurt women. “Any jobs and recovery initiatives will need to ensure that women have commensurate representation among beneficiaries.”    

In the end, the investment would be the current White House administration’s largest package to create jobs and improve financial well-being for a wide swath of Americans who need it most.