How Pension Funds Can Build Infrastructure and Provide Jobs

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America’s infrastructure—its roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, energy grids, and telecommunications systems, to name a few—is outdated and is, in far too many places, crumbling due to lack of sufficient public investment. America’s construction workers faced levels of unemployment close to 14 percent in 2012, and our construction industry is experiencing lackluster levels of activity, as the value added by the industry in 2011 was still more than $100 billion lower than the prerecession high. And while public and private employee pension funds are confronting distressing levels of unfunded liabilities due to the most recent market crash and rising levels of retirement—with 90 percent of the pension funds that responded to a Wilshire Consulting survey reporting higher amounts of liabilities than assets—public pension funds and private funds managing union pensions have more than $4.5 trillion in assets. Any one of these indicators alone would signal deep economic distress. Together, they should be setting off alarm bells that new economic policies are needed. The Center for American Progress is calling for new federal policies that encourage responsible pension-fund investment in U.S. infrastructure projects because such policies can help reverse these negative trends and make a significant contribution to putting the economy on sounder footing.

The Center for American Progress estimates that all levels of government, together with the private sector, invest approximately $130 billion annually in energy, surface transportation, and water infrastructure. But the estimates also show that an additional $129 billion per year is needed for at least the next 10 years to repair and improve our transportation and water systems, dams and levees, and energy infrastructure, all of which are critical to supporting globally competitive businesses and a high quality of life in communities across America.

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