The construction sector was particularly hard hit by the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and really never quite recovered, with devastating consequences for construction workers. Unemployment in construction remains dismal. In August 2011 the unemployment rate in the construction industry stood at 13.2 percent—substantially higher than the economy-wide unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. The loss of jobs and investment in construction has been dragging down the overall U.S. economy. At the same time, the United States’ transportation and other public infrastructure is underfunded, aging, and growing increasingly inadequate to serve the needs of families and business competitiveness.
Fortunately, there is something very simple the federal government can do about these problems: Put more resources into infrastructure investment. We know from very recent experience that infrastructure investments deliver the goods for job creation and business growth. Two years ago, the unemployment rate for construction workers was 17 percent—before federal government stimulus funds boosted construction and the overall economy. In 2009 Congress and the Obama administration allocated an additional $29.9 billion in transportation spending for roads, bridges, and transit systems alongside another $21.7 billion for other infrastructure investments, ranging from funds for improving drinking and wastewater systems to large-scale civil engineering projects overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Together, this money accounted for 6 percent of spending through the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, directly creating 1.1 million jobs by March 2011 in the construction sector. Those 1.1 million jobs represent 17 percent higher construction employment than would have been the case without government action, according to an analysis by Daniel J. Wilson, an economist with the Federal Reserve.
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