Infrastructure & Unemployment – two problems, one solution?

America needs a face lift. This is based on news that 65% of our roads are “less than good” and 25% of bridges need “significant repair.”

President Obama is expected to spend the week discussing our need for infrastructure improvements across the nation to the tune of $302B in spending.  We know our roads and bridges aren’t exactly in the best of shape (see this and this and this), and we are a nation of drivers that need roads and bridges to go about our daily lives.

Ignoring the problem of paying for infrastructure improvements through business tax reform being a tough sell inside the Beltway, lets assume President Obama found the money. And let us assume he really is open to alternative sources of funding…

Here’s an idea: right now there are apparently 9.5M or so American citizens out of work, many of whom are receiving unemployment benefits from the federal government. It is estimated that 8.0M Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, totaling an estimated $43B in 2014.

So, we’ve got 8.0-9.0M people in need of work at a cost of $40B annually (or $206B over five years) and we have infrastructure needs of $300B over the next five years. I can’t help feeling like our elected officials could figure out a way to combine these two problems into one larger solution, one that could save us some money on labor expense while also creating some jobs.

This happened back during the Roosevelt’s administration with the New Deal to a small degree. He formed the Works Progress Administration which initially was tasked with building roads and public buildings.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting we recreate another Federal Project Number One. I am suggesting that we accept our reality; we have willing workers and we have national needs. Why shouldn’t our federal government combine these two initiatives into one, likely saving some money in the process?

The obvious difference when comparing 2014 to 1939 is that Americans didn’t have unemployment insurance in 1939. The government wasn’t paying out money to those unemployed citizens. Instead, it founded the WPA to give those unemployed folks something to do that would give the government a reason to help them out financially, all while providing a public service to the nation. In this case, we are already paying people via unemployment benefits. We just aren’t getting anything back for it right now.



ADDENDUM: Here’s the American Infrastructure Report Card from what I assume is a source with bias. It would probably benefit many members of the American Society of Civil Engineers if America started massive improvements on our infrastructure, no?


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