Lifting More Americans Into the Middle Class by Modernizing our Transportation System
There is a smart strategy that can boost our economy and help rebuild the middle class: investing in our failing infrastructure and transportation systems.
Years of neglect and Congressional inaction have left our country with transit and passenger rail systems, airports and an air traffic control system, highways and bridges, ports and maritime networks that are in desperate need of repair, expansion and modernization. Failure to invest in these projects has also resulted in missed opportunities to create millions of long-term, good paying jobs.
A study from the Duke Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness shows that underinvestment in transportation costs our country more than 900,000 jobs each year and makes the United States less competitive than 15 of our major trading partners.
Improvements to our transportation systems will cement America’s status as an economic powerhouse in this century and create good, steady jobs for our country’s unemployed and underemployed workers, which together total nearly 15 million people. For every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure, more than 21,000 jobs are created across multiple sectors of the economy, including operations, maintenance, construction and design. When components needed to build transportation projects, including steel, rail cars, and buses, are manufactured in the United States, the economic ripple effect becomes even greater.
Funding these projects does more than just put people back to work. Investments in transportation create wealth across the entire economy—from the small farmer whose livelihood depends on efficient transportation to employers of all sizes that need a reliable freight network and safe and affordable commuter options for their employees, to carless millennials who rely on public transportation. Because every dollar invested in these projects returns $3.54 in economic impact, entire communities are able to enjoy the bounty from these investments.
The economic growth transportation investments fuel improves quality of life for millions and helps private businesses thrive. That’s why transportation has traditionally played a key role in spurring economic activity and building a strong middle class.
Some of the greatest periods of economic growth and job creation our country has seen were aided by the historic—and yes, massive—investments in grand and modern infrastructure, from the transcontinental railroad to our complex ground, air, and water transportation networks. Few dispute the fact that the growth and eventual dominance of America’s economy were synonymous with bipartisan decisions by elected leaders in the last century to build out a transportation system reflective of the ambitions of a nation ready to lead the global economy.
It is time for that mentality to once again take hold. Given the dilapidated state of our transportation system and historically low interest rates that reduce borrowing costs for these projects, there is no better time than the present to use transportation investments as drivers in an economy that needs better direction.
Ed Wytkind is president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.