Trump’s in­fras­truc­ture splurge would collide with US la­bor crunch

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s drive to re­build US roads, bridges, ports and other public works projects with a $1 tril­lion in­fras­truc­ture in­vest­ment plan would come as the coun­try faces a short­age of skilled la­bor­ers. Be­fore any dirt can be moved, Trump would have to get ap­proval from Congress. But with Demo­cratic sup­port and a push from busi­ness groups, there is some op­ti­mism that Trump could win over skep­ti­cal Repub­li­cans who con­trol Congress, if the plan does not add sig­nif­i­cantly to fed­eral debt.

More than two-thirds of US roads are in less than good con­di­tion and nearly 143,000 bridges need re­pair or im­prove­ment, the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment es­ti­mates. At the same time, con­struc­tion con­trac­tors have re­ported tight la­bor con­di­tions in the South, Mid­west and South­west, caus­ing project de­lays, the Fed­eral Re­serve noted last month.

Ear­lier this year, the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Home Builders es­ti­mated there were around 200,000 un­filled con­struc­tion jobs in the United States, an 81 per­cent in­crease in the last two years.

In­fras­truc­ture projects need highly trained work­ers, such as heavy equip­ment op­er­a­tors and iron spe­cial­ists. But as a re­sult of the 2007-2008 re­ces­sion, which caused an es­ti­mated 25 per­cent of con­struc­tion jobs to van­ish, their ranks have thinned. Many of these work­ers went back to school, joined the mil­i­tary or got lower-pay­ing jobs in re­tail, ser­vices and other sec­tors. Some just got too old for the rig­ors of con­struc­tion. “They wan­dered off into other ca­reers,” said Leonard Toen­jes, pres­i­dent of As­so­ci­ated Gen­eral Con­trac­tors of Mis­souri, which rep­re­sents con­trac­tors in the state.

Un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, who other­wise might help re­plen­ish those ranks, are un­likely can­di­dates how­ever, since com­pa­nies do not want to in­vest in train­ing peo­ple with an un­cer­tain sta­tus, es­pe­cially given Trump’s anti-im­mi­grant bent. The la­bor short­age is driv­ing up con­struc­tion costs, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try ex­perts, which could cut into the scope of any new Wash­ing­ton in­vest­ment scheme.

In re­sponse to the con­struc­tion “skills gap,” the US Depart­ment of La­bor and Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion are aim­ing to ex­pand help to lo­cal­i­ties train­ing work­ers for road and bridge build­ing, ac­cord­ing to a FHWA spokesman. Even if the scope of work is not as grandiose as Trump orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned, it would ben­e­fit a range of busi­nesses, from steel maker Nu­cor Corp and con­crete firm US Con­crete Inc to con­struc­tion ma­chin­ery com­pa­nies such as Cater­pil­lar Inc.

More in­fras­truc­ture spend­ing would boost trade unions, too, which ap­peals to Democrats. — Reuters

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