The Infrastructure Bill Means Billions For Construction Projects. Now Who Is Going To Build Them?
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed in mid-November by President Joe Biden, provides about $110B in additional funding for roads, bridges and other forms of transit, representing a massive increase in federal spending for that kind of project.
That means the demand for construction workers will increase even as the industry is having a hard time finding skilled workers as it is.
The number of construction workers shrank during the coronavirus pandemic and hasn't completely recovered yet. In February 2020, the total number of U.S. construction workers was more than 7.6 million, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. By April of that year, the total had dropped below 7 million. As of October 2021, the total had risen to nearly 7.5 million.
Even before the infrastructure bill passed, the demand for construction services was elevated, according to Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu.
“With interest rates low and liquidity high, many investors are seeking positive rates of return through investment in real estate and new construction," Basu said in a statement in early November. "Partially as a result, contractors continue to expect sales and employment to grow in the near term."
The strong demand for houses alone will mean that the construction industry will need about 2.2 million more workers over the next three years, as well as to replace older workers who retire, the Home Builders Institute reports.
Another upshot of the labor shortage will be upward pressure on construction industry wages. The bill itself stipulates certain levels of pay for construction workers on the projects it will fund.
"Contractors need to be cognizant of the fact that the new bill requires the vast majority of construction projects to pay prevailing wages based on an average of the pay scale for local construction work," Michelle Meisels, a principal in Deloitte Consulting's technology practice, told Construction Dive.
Construction worker pay is already higher than median U.S. wages, with half of payroll workers in construction earning more than $50K a year, edging out the U.S. median wage of $49K. The top quarter of construction workers make at least $71K a year.