Beyond Shovel-Ready: The Extent and Impact of US Infrastructure Jobs

May 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips


Summary of Findings

An analysis of occupational employment data for the United States reveals that:

  • In 2012, 14.2 million workers were employed in infrastructure jobs across the country, accounting for

    11 percent of national employment. Truck drivers, electricians, and civil engineers are among the

    occupations employing the most workers overall, the broad majority of whom (77 percent) focus on operating

    infrastructure rather than its construction (15 percent), design (6 percent), or governance (2 percent). At the

    same time, 9.1 million of these jobs are found in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, with

    logistics hubs like Memphis and Louisville having the highest share of workers involved in infrastructure-related


  • Infrastructure occupations tend to offer more equitable wages compared to all occupations nationally,

    paying over 30 percent more to workers at lower ends of the income scale. Workers in infrastructure

    occupations earn significantly higher wages at the 10th and 25th percentile ($24,750 and $30,190) relative to all

    workers in the U.S. ($18,090 and $22,480). These not only include specialized occupations that pay above-average

    wages such as nuclear engineers and hydrologists, but also other sizable occupations such as telecommunication

    line installers and water treatment plant operators found in nearly every metropolitan area throughout the


  • More than 80 percent of workers employed in infrastructure occupations typically have short- to long-

    term on-the-job training, but only 12 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and generally need less

    education to qualify for these jobs. Many infrastructure jobs have low barriers of entry in terms of

    formal education, including cargo agents, rail car repairers, and other trade occupations, which frequently rely

    on skills developed on the job. However, these workers still earn competitive wages across a variety of

    occupations, ranging from gas compressor operators to septic tank servicers.

  • Infrastructure occupations are projected to increase 9.1 percent during the next decade, including the

    need to replace more than 2.7 million workers. From 2012 to 2022, many infrastructure jobs are projected

    to grow by thousands of additional workers, led by fast-growing occupations such as wind turbine service

    technicians and solar photovoltaic installers. Critically, though, there will be a need to replace almost one

    quarter of this infrastructure workforce due to retirements and other employment shifts.

This report sheds new light on the widespread contributions that infrastructure jobs make to the nation’s

economy, including their importance at the metropolitan level. Since many of these jobs offer more equitable

wages, require less formal education for entry, and are projected to grow over the next decade, they represent a

key area of consideration for policymakers aiming to address the country’s ongoing infrastructure and jobs



Data for the 100 Largest Metro Areas



For decades, policymakers have called for more spending on America’s infrastructure

to stimulate job growth. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan wanted to raise the federal gasoline tax by a nickel to

generate “real, worthwhile work.“1 President George H. W. Bush was widely quoted in 1991

after signing a federal transportation law that, he said, “could be summed up in three words: jobs, jobs,

jobs.”2 Similarly, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 focused on job preservation

by pumping billions of dollars into “shovel-ready” transportation, energy, and water

projects.3 In his latest State of the Union address, President Barack Obama noted how “first-

class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure” through new ladders of opportunity into the middle


In many ways, this focus is understandable in Washington and beyond given the recent economic struggles facing

the country. Construction jobs, after all, accounted for one-third of the jobs lost since the start of the Great

Recession, and they are still 1.5 million below their pre-recession level despite three years of steady

increases.5 Spending on infrastructure also attracts attention from policymakers owing to the large

multiplier effects these projects can often have on the overall economy, which can lead to gains in productivity

and employment.6

Yet, as policymakers continue to direct attention to infrastructure, they do not always identify the exact

types of jobs supported by these investments. By limiting infrastructure employment to construction alone, and

viewing it largely in terms of stimulus spending, policymakers have not considered the breadth of infrastructure

jobs found across the U.S. economy.

For example, investing in systems essential to providing clean water, efficient energy, and safe transportation

are key priorities in preparation for extreme weather events, but the particular jobs responsible for managing

these systems are often left undefined.7 Such ambiguity makes it difficult to develop targeted

solutions in a time of political gridlock and constrained budgets. Beyond investing in physical structures, then,

policymakers need to ask whether the nation has the workforce necessary to tackle these pressing challenges.

This report aims to define a more precise range of jobs in occupations and industries that play a distinct role

in the design, construction, operation, and governance of the nation’s infrastructure assets. It explores

where this employment is concentrated nationally and provides insight into the wages, projections, and skills

required for these jobs. Through this comprehensive approach, the report finds that infrastructure employment

spans across a variety of public and private sectors—from pipelines and railroads to warehouses and

utilities—containing an array of jobs that pay competitive wages, have low barriers of entry, and are

expected to grow in years to come.


Background and Approach

Attempts to measure infrastructure employment are complicated by the ever-expanding and

evolving definition of infrastructure itself. Depending on the individual or organization involved in a given

project infrastructure can take on many different meanings and lead to an uneven assessment of its true extent,

economically or otherwise.8 On the one hand, infrastructure serves as an essential foundation for

public services such as water, electricity, and waste removal, which allow communities to function on a daily

basis.9 It also represents an important form of physical capital for investors interested in managing

risk, facilitating commerce, and building wealth.10 Still, to others, infrastructure includes social

institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons that are vital to the nation’s education, health, and


At the same time, determining which jobs fall under each of these categories can lead to a confounding number

of possibilities. Unlike workers in construction, manufacturing, or even STEM-related fields (science, technology,

engineering, and math), little precedent exists for identifying the knowledge required and activities carried out

by infrastructure workers.11 Since infrastructure spans numerous types of establishments, these workers

vary considerably in the products they handle and services they provide as well. Infrastructure jobs share many of

the same complexities of those jobs in the “clean” economy—the sector that produces goods and

services with an environmental benefit—which lack standard guidelines, definitions, and data to isolate

their employment.12

Our initial goal in this analysis is to develop a consistent definition for infrastructure, building on

previous reports to help capture a clear range of employment opportunities. Among prior studies, Statistics Canada

(StatCan) offers a detailed approach to measure infrastructure’s economic scope at a national level. By

classifying these assets into industry sectors on the basis of their physical functions and characteristics,

StatCan was able to compare infrastructure investments over time.13 Rather than relying on an ad hoc

definition as many reports do, we follow StatCan’s lead and focus on a set of tangible assets that support

the nation’s larger infrastructure network.

In turn, we establish the following definition of infrastructure:

In general, infrastructure encompasses a broad range of systems and facilities designed, constructed,

operated, and governed across the public and private sector. Foundational in nature, these physical assets are

either manmade or natural, often operate as part of larger networks, support a variety of economic activities, and

provide a host of other services with a clear public benefit over the course of many years.

As a first step, we use the seven infrastructure sectors described below. Each sector’s distinct

specialty—from transportation to water and energy—helps isolate the services provided within this

expansive space. Although the separation between these sectors is not absolute, each typically depends on

different frameworks to get projects done, contains assets overseen by unique groups of public and private actors,

and supports infrastructure in a highly individualized manner.14 In this way, the sectors offer a

useful guide to home in on specific jobs of interest.

Seven Infrastructure Sectors

  • Intra-Metro Transportation includes local roads and bridges; public transit such as subways and buses; taxis and limousines; sightseeing transportation; and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure.

  • Inter-Metro Transportation includes passenger rail, airports, and highways, and inter-urban and rural bus transportation.

  • Trade and Logistics includes freight rail, air cargo operations, trucking, seaports/inland waterways, transportation support, and warehousing and express/local delivery services.

  • Energy includes the generation, transmission, and distribution of energy from natural gas (pipelines), facilities responsible for electricity (nuclear, hydroelectric, and solar/wind), and other utilities.

  • Water includes clean/drinking water, stormwater, wastewater, sewage/water treatment facilities, and “green” infrastructure critical to conserving related natural resources.

  • Telecommunications include broadband and transmission infrastructure (wired, wireless, and satellite), concentrated in facilities outside radio and television broadcasting.

  • Public Works include streetscapes, land redevelopment, and waste/landfills (solid waste, hazardous materials, and remediation).15

Based on our definition, we consequently classified infrastructure jobs in terms of occupations and industries

engaged in these activities, regardless of the ownership or output associated with individual

establishments.16 Although this approach follows the green jobs methodology used by the U.S. Bureau of

Labor Statistics (BLS) to some degree, our analysis focuses more on the services provided by workers in relevant

activities rather than the type of products created. Workers who help forge metals, extract raw energy resources,

or assemble vehicles, for instance, are among those employed in jobs that fall outside the scope of this


As a result, workers may frequently carry out different responsibilities depending on their specific line of

work, but they directly support the long-term performance of the nation’s infrastructure across several

clearly delineated sectors.17 For example, although some engineers specialize in the design of bridges,

dams, and large-scale utility projects, other technicians concentrate on the operation of these facilities.

Meanwhile, pipe layers and electricians physically install needed components, and certain managers, analysts, and

planners contribute to oversight and governance.

Key Terms

Infrastructure Jobs

Employment opportunities based on the total number of workers in occupations and industries in the seven infrastructure sectors.


The activities that employees regularly carry out for pay, which are grouped into distinct categories on the basis of similar job duties as outlined in the 2010 Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) system.18 In total, there are more than 800 detailed occupations found across all industries. “Infrastructure occupations,” in particular, are often concentrated in infrastructure activities and perform duties central to infrastructure design, construction, operation, and governance.


Groups of establishments that provide similar goods or services, as determined by the 2012 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Private and government-owned establishments are included, while agricultural establishments and private households are excluded. “Infrastructure industries,” in particular, provide services closely linked to at least one of the seven infrastructure sectors.


The total number of full-time and part-time workers paid a wage or salary, excluding household and self-employed workers, as defined in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey.19


Based on straight-time, gross pay over a standard work period, as defined in the OES survey. These include tips, production bonuses, cost-of-living allowances, and over-the-road pay based on mileage. However, overtime pay, back pay, and holiday bonuses are among the types of compensation excluded.20 Wages include mean hourly and annual pay, but also percentile wages (10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th). The latter are based on the percentage of workers who earn wages below a certain value. For instance, if $9.00 represents the 10th percentile wage for a given occupation, this means that 10 percent of workers employed in the occupation earn less than this amount.


Levels of education and training typically needed to perform the duties in a particular line of work. Similar to BLS, we use three categories to classify skills across different occupations: education required for entry, related work experience, and on-the-job training to demonstrate competency.21

Through this approach, we identify 95 occupations whose employment is often linked to specific

infrastructure assets and other relevant work activities.22 This report examines a variety of

occupations, including telecommunication line installers, power plant operators, and aircraft mechanics, many of

whom perform specialized tasks and use specialized knowledge and tools to support infrastructure

assets.23 Some occupations, such as railroad conductors and cargo agents, have especially high

concentrations of employment dealing with particular types of infrastructure. In other words, infrastructure jobs

are found in an assortment of occupations that are essential to the long-term operation of various infrastructure

assets. Public-sector workers at the federal, state, and local levels play a large role as well.24

Although several additional occupations could conceivably be considered—including those involved in the

postal service—the 95 occupations represent a discrete collection of jobs that design, construct, operate,

and govern the nation’s infrastructure in a well-defined capacity. Their employment, as such, is counted

across all industries at the national and metropolitan level.

To complement these 95 occupations, the analysis also includes workers employed in 42 industries closely

aligned with the seven infrastructure sectors. In addition to energy and transportation, many industries have a

clear focus in trade and logistics, as evident in the enormous employment totals for freight trucking,

warehousing, and delivery services. However, the notable lack of workers counted in several interrelated sectors,

such as water, illustrates how these industries do not necessarily capture a full range of infrastructure

employment on their own, pointing to the importance of the occupations defined above.25

For more information on the report’s methodology, see Appendix B in the PDF download.



A. In 2012, 14.2 million workers were employed in infrastructure jobs across the country, accounting

for 11 percent of national employment.

Nationally, infrastructure jobs touch every corner of the economy, supporting the movement of people and goods,

the distribution of energy and water, and the deployment of technologies and related services.

Of the 14.2 million workers involved in these infrastructure activities—making up 11 percent of the

nation’s total employment—11.4 million are employed in the 95 infrastructure occupations and 2.8

million are employed in the 42 infrastructure industries.26Occupations with the most workers

include material movers, truck drivers, and electricians, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all infrastructure

jobs, while nuclear engineers, hydrologists, and logisticians are among the smaller, more specialized

infrastructure occupations. Combined, the 20 largest occupations make up nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all

infrastructure employment throughout the nation.

The 2.8 million workers in the 42 infrastructure industries are led by freight trucking, warehousing,

and wired telecommunications carriers. For the most part, these workers carry out generalized tasks in support of

larger infrastructure operations by fulfilling essential administrative duties, managing daily finances, and

providing a range of other services in different establishments. As a result, they can vary widely in their

occupational focus, despite their significant concentration in infrastructure industries. Office clerks,

accountants, customer service representatives, operating engineers, and construction laborers rank among the

largest occupations in this respect.

Contrary to popular belief, most workers employed in infrastructure jobs tend to operate physical assets,

rather than constructing or installing them.27 Across all infrastructure occupations, 77 percent of

workers are primarily concerned with operation versus 15 percent with construction, 6 percent with design, and

fewer than than 2 percent with governance. This focus is also apparent among workers in the 20 largest

infrastructure occupations in Table 1, where 7.4 million work in operations (81 percent) compared to only 1.3

million in construction (15 percent). These shares help to not only clarify the type of duties in infrastructure

occupations, but also underscore the variety of tasks—and skills needed—to maintain infrastructure

assets in the long term.

Infrastructure workers also play a key role in driving metropolitan economic growth. Combined, 9.1

million workers are employed in infrastructure jobs in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, and they make up 64

percent of U.S. infrastructure employment, on par with their 66 percent share of the country’s

population.28 Trade and logistics jobs are particularly widespread and represent four of the five

largest infrastructure occupations; material movers, heavy truck drivers, light truck drivers, and packers and

packagers alone account for 36 percent of all metropolitan infrastructure employment.

Not surprisingly, the largest labor markets have the most infrastructure employment overall. For example,

New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are the nation’s three largest labor markets and alone contain more than

1.8 million infrastructure workers. This total exceeds the number of infrastructure workers employed in the

smallest 55 metropolitan areas combined. Poughkeepsie, Palm Bay, and Colorado Springs, for example, are among the

nation’s smallest markets and have fewer than 60,000 workers employed in infrastructure jobs.

As a share of total employment, however, infrastructure jobs stand out in several metropolitan areas and reveal

distinct patterns in labor specialization. In total, 46 metropolitan areas have shares of infrastructure

employment above the national average (11 percent). These include warehousing and logistics hubs such as Memphis

(17.8 percent) and Louisville (13.6 percent) as well as energy and utility centers such as New Orleans (12.8

percent) and Houston (12.5 percent).29 Seattle has the most avionics technicians, Richmond has the most

nuclear engineers, and Chicago has the most septic tank servicers. In contrast metropolitan areas that are not

major logistics hubs but have other economic specialties have lower shares of infrastructure employment, such as

Washington, D.C. (8.4 percent), Austin, TX (8.8 percent), and Tucson, AZ (8.9 percent).

Beyond Infrastructure: Examining Out-of-Scope Occupations and Industries

Infrastructure jobs cut across a number of occupations and industries, but millions of closely related jobs

appear in several additional areas of the economy. Although these jobs involve similar skills and

responsibilities, they do not connect as directly to the infrastructure sectors outlined in this report. Instead,

they are frequently found in residential and other building construction, mining and energy extraction, and the

postal service. In many cases, workers in these jobs focus on projects over a shorter timeframe and carry out a

wider range of tasks that fall outside the scope of infrastructure design, construction, operation, and


For example, residential and other building construction employs more than 4 million workers, who concentrate

on the installation of windows, flooring, and site-specific improvements.30 Roofers and brick masons,

in turn, are among the many trade occupations in these industries and have duties that differ markedly depending

on the contractor involved, unlike workers employed in heavy and civil engineering construction.31 On

the other hand, electricians and pipelayers in residential and other building projects help maintain the energy

and water systems crucial to long-term infrastructure performance, so they are included in this


In the same way, only certain jobs in mining and extraction are counted, rather than the industry as a whole.33 The generation, transmission, and distribution of energy rely on numerous infrastructure assets,

ranging from hydroelectric plants and wind turbines to power lines and pipes. These jobs require more than 1

million workers.34 The mining sector alone, however, employs nearly 800,000 workers and focuses on

extracting the raw materials needed to fuel this network. Similar to manufacturing, jobs in mining are

primarily concerned with achieving higher levels of physical output, using inputs to drive productivity in

oilfields, natural gas platforms, and refineries.35 Although certain pump operators are critical in the

larger infrastructure network, several occupations such as derrick operators and roustabouts are limited to

extraction activities and are not included in this report.

Despite its enormous role linking national communications and commerce, the U.S. Postal Service has jobs that

do not always clearly relate to trade and logistics infrastructure.36 Employing more than 600,000

workers, the Postal Service depends on an extensive assortment of mail processing facilities, distribution

centers, and retail outlets, each of which requires different types of labor and has different efficiency

concerns.37 Although these individual establishments can have operations that closely parallel those in

express delivery services and local messengers, both of which are included in this report, it is harder to

distinguish the types of services postal workers offer in some cases. Clerks, mail carriers, and machine

operators, for instance, may be responsible for a variety of tasks during the delivery process, as opposed to the

truck drivers and cargo agents in warehousing and other well-defined freight activities.

B. Infrastructure occupations tend to offer more equitable wages than all occupations nationally,

paying over 30 percent more to workers at lower ends of the income scale.

Infrastructure wages can vary widely depending on the specific occupation. As shown in Figure 3, though,

infrastructure jobs tend to pay higher wages to workers at the 10th and 25th percentile ($24,750 and $30,190

annually) compared with all occupations nationally ($18,090 and $22,480), signaling their importance to workers at

lower ends of the income spectrum. More than 7 million workers—across 86 different infrastructure

occupations—earn more at these percentiles, including truck drivers, civil engineers, and water treatment

plant operators.38 Infrastructure occupations also frequently pay higher median wages ($38,480) than

the national median ($34,750); traffic technicians and sailors are among the infrastructure occupations earning

median wages around $38,000.

While many infrastructure occupations pay lower wages to workers at the 75th and 90th percentile, their wages

are more evenly distributed relative to all occupations in the United States. This lower wage dispersion, in

turn, may indicate the potential for less wage growth in the long run, but may also lead to greater certainty for

workers employed in these jobs, which benefit from structured wage practices as a result of unionization or other

industry norms.39 For example, the ratio of wages earned by workers at the 90th and 10th percentile is

significantly less for infrastructure jobs (2.5) than all others nationally (4.8) (see Figure 4). From ship

captains (4.0) and nuclear technicians (2.3) to subway and streetcar operators (1.9), this 90/10 ratio is lower

for workers in every infrastructure occupation compared with the nation as a whole, illustrating a more equitable

distribution of incomes overall.40

Although workers in infrastructure occupations earn more equitable wages as a whole, they earn slightly less on

average ($19.39 per hour or $40,970 annually) than workers in all occupations nationally ($22.01 and $45,790).

Packers and packagers ($10.80), bus drivers ($14.01), and highway maintenance workers ($17.43) are among the

largest occupations paying the least. Nonetheless, 59 of the infrastructure occupations pay above-average wages,

with air traffic controllers ($56.94 per hour), nuclear engineers ($51.51), and marine engineers and naval

architects ($46.22) leading the way.41

These national wage patterns are also evident in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, often reflecting

distinctive types of local infrastructure jobs. For example, as a hub for several passenger and cargo airlines,

Atlanta employs many high-paying pilots, aircraft mechanics, and freight agents. Likewise, Baton Rouge has

hundreds of well-paid petroleum pump operators and pipefitters, drawing from the strength of its energy sector.

Cost-of-living, of course, is an important factor determining the relative wages in these areas, but

infrastructure jobs continue to offer competitive wages for lower-income workers in particular, regardless of


Indeed, infrastructure occupations in every metropolitan area except McAllen, TX, and El Paso, TX – which

have outsized concentrations of lower-paying material movers—pay higher wages to workers at the 10th and

25th percentile relative to all occupations nationally. The differences are notable across the country, even in

metropolitan areas with persistently high unemployment rates such as Stockton, CA, and Detroit. Together, these

two areas have more than 100,000 workers employed in infrastructure occupations paying higher wages at the 10th

percentile than the nation as a whole.43

C. More than 80 percent of workers employed in infrastructure occupations typically have short- to

long-term on-the-job training, but only 12 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and generally need

less education to qualify for these jobs.

Infrastructure jobs typically require less formal education and thus have lower barriers to entry. For example,

the highest level of education for 57 percent of infrastructure workers is a high school diploma or less. This

compares with 34 percent of workers employed in all occupations nationally.44 Moreover, with a combined

employment of 9 million workers, 67 of the 95 infrastructure occupations only require a high school diploma or

less for entry. Wages for these jobs, though, remain competitive: 59 of the 67 occupations pay higher wages to

workers at the 10th percentile than nationally. Paving equipment operators, solar photovoltaic installers, and

septic tank servicers are among the many occupations that fall into this category. See Table 2.

Nevertheless, several higher-paying infrastructure occupations require additional postsecondary education for

entry, with many of these workers holding a bachelor’s degree or higher (see Table 3). For example, seven of

the ten infrastructure occupations paying the highest average wages overall require a bachelor’s degree or

higher. Civil engineers are among the largest of these occupations, followed by logisticians and environmental

engineers. Many of these jobs are concentrated in infrastructure design and governance, with six of the ten

highest-paying occupations primarily focused on one of these two activities. In contrast, all of the ten lowest-

paying occupations focus on infrastructure construction or operation.

However, regardless of education, most workers employed in infrastructure occupations rely on skills developed

through on-the-job training. In total, 73 of the 95 infrastructure occupations, covering 10 million workers, call

for short or long-term on-the-job training, or an apprenticeship, as general requirements for competency.

Electricians, plumbers, and other traditional trade occupations are the most common in this respect.

In addition, infrastructure jobs requiring hands-on experience often pay well. Nearly 6 million workers

employed in 64 of these 73 occupations earn higher wages at the 10th and 25th percentile, illustrating the breadth

of higher-paying infrastructure opportunities available to those who may lack an advanced degree but demonstrate

the ability to perform tasks on the job. Indeed, in the same 73 infrastructure occupations calling for on-the-job

training, only 10 require some form of postsecondary education beyond a high school diploma.

D. Infrastructure occupations are projected to increase 9.1 percent during the next decade,

including the need to replace more than 2.7 million workers.

From 2012 to 2022, infrastructure occupations are projected to grow by 1.1 million workers, led by an

additional 242,000 material movers, 193,000 truck drivers, and 115,000 electricians. Fast-growing occupations

include wind turbine service technicians, solar photovoltaic installers, and logisticians, each of which is

expected to see employment increase by more than 20 percent. Moreover, many workers in these occupations

hold a high school diploma or less (see Table 4). Overall, 74 of the 95 infrastructure occupations are projected

to grow, with declines in only a few occupations, such as ticketing agents, meter readers, and locomotive


Although infrastructure occupations have a projected rate of employment growth (9.1 percent) slightly lower

than all occupations nationally (10.8 percent), their replacement rate is quite high. Due to retirements and other employment shifts, 57 infrastructure occupations are projected to exceed the national replacement rate. This means that these occupations will need to replace more than 23.4 percent of their workforce during the next decade.

As shown in Table 4, some occupations are projected to replace at least 40 percent of their workers, including

ship engineers, air traffic controllers, and bridge and lock tenders. Significantly, these jobs are also often

more specialized than the many lower-skilled service occupations that experience high turnover, such as waiters,

cashiers, or tellers, making them more indispensible and costlier to replace in the long run for individual

establishments.45 In this way, there is a clear need to fill the employment gap resulting from these

projected replacements during the next several years, even as new job openings emerge elsewhere to help fuel

additional employment growth.46



As the nation continues to pull out of the Great Recession, policymakers must consider a

broader range of development strategies and employment opportunities to drive future economic growth. Although

metropolitan areas are leading this charge—creating a variety of innovative partnerships, programs, and

policies across the public and private sectors—millions of workers still sit on the sidelines struggling to

find and fill the jobs that support all this activity.47 Stubbornly high unemployment not only wastes

an enormous pool of talent, but also acts as a continual drag on spending and output, holding back new projects

and investments in the country.48

Given its widespread economic impact, however, infrastructure is uniquely positioned to address these

challenges in both the short and long term. Employing more than 14 million workers across 95 different occupations

and 42 industries, infrastructure jobs are numerous and diverse, engaged in activities crucial to the

nation’s economic competiveness.

At the same time, because many of these jobs tend to focus on operating rather than constructing infrastructure

assets, they should figure prominently in discussions concerning infrastructure investment over many years. Too

often, calls for infrastructure investment only focus on the jobs involved at the beginning of a project’s

lifecycle. Policymakers need to view the costs and benefits of designing, constructing, operating, and governing

infrastructure over several decades, which necessarily involves millions of workers. The large number of workers

involved in trade and logistics, for instance, is a key factor to consider as policymakers develop national

freight plans and export strategies.49

In addition, infrastructure jobs are prominent in metropolitan areas, underscoring their importance to local

industries, utilities, and other government bodies. From Atlanta and Indianapolis to Riverside and Oklahoma City,

metropolitan areas vary widely in their economic base—whether oriented toward energy, trade, or another

sector—but regardless of the base, their infrastructure workforce can account for up to 18 percent of total

employment. As metropolitan leaders explore ways to create more and better jobs, they should note

infrastructure’s contribution to their labor market.

Since infrastructure jobs often pay higher wages to workers at lower ends of the income ladder, they can also

be accessible to many potential jobseekers, offering a clearer path to better employment opportunities. The need

to identify well-paying jobs poses a serious challenge during the economic recovery, as workers settle for

positions below their abilities and issues of income inequality dominate national headlines.50 The

growing wedge between high-income earners and others, in particular, continues to raise awareness of these

economic issues and lead to questions over possible long-term strategies across the public and private


In the past, policymakers have focused on infrastructure jobs with stimulus spending, but by considering a new

range of infrastructure industries and occupations, they can begin to direct more attention to long-term

employment opportunities supported by these investments. A full assessment of infrastructure wages, of course,

involves many factors beyond the scope of this report, including the number of hours worked, cost of living,

whether the jobs are temporary or permanent, and the location of jobs within metropolitan areas. However, these

factors should not diminish infrastructure’s sizable impact on workers at all income


Finally, with their emphasis on training rather than formal education, infrastructure jobs may appeal to a

broad class of workers who lack advanced degrees. Because many of these jobs are projected to grow over the next

decade and have high replacement rates, a new generation of workers will need to fill this void and manage the

nation’s most valuable infrastructure assets. In the federal workforce alone, air traffic controllers are

expected to see a wave of retirements in the coming years, with the Federal Aviation Administration having hired

more than 7,500 controllers from 2007 to 2012 to accommodate these changes.51 Moreover, the physical

demands required in certain infrastructure occupations may be attractive to the disproportionate number of male

workers unemployed following the Great Recession.53 Policymakers would be well advised to monitor these

types of labor needs and skill requirements in light of relevant training programs and career pathways.



As the American economy continues to recover and make gains in the labor market, it has a long way to go to

repair the damage wrought by the Great Recession, particularly in the construction sector.54

Policymakers have often framed stimulus spending on infrastructure as a way to address these kinds of losses by

promoting short-term job creation, assisting state and local governments, and providing much-needed investments in

a range of projects.

Although construction workers play a pivotal role building and maintaining infrastructure, this report shows

they only compose a fraction of the entire workforce responsible for managing the nation’s physical assets.

To help promote additional trade, move more passengers, ensure the efficient use of energy and water, and carry

out other infrastructure-related activities, it is essential to gain a firmer understanding of the employment

opportunities behind these investments. This report is a first step in that task.


1. Ronald Reagan. “Radio Address to the Nation on Proposed Legislation for a Highway and Bridge Repair

Program.” November 27, 1982. Available online at:

hes/1982/112782a.htm. (Accessed April 17, 2014).

2. Michael Wines. “Bush Signs Transit Bill In Texas And Touts Jobs.” The New York

Times. December 19, 1991.

3. For more information on ARRA and public investment in water and transportation infrastructure, see:

Congressional Budget Office. “Public Spending on Transportation and Water Infrastructure.” (2010).

4. Another example is the Federal Highway Administration’s oft-cited estimation that nearly 35,000 jobs

are supported by every $1 billion in federal highway spending. For more information, see: U.S. Department of

Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. “Employment Impacts of Highway Infrastructure

Investment.” Direct and indirect jobs refer to workers employed in construction and other supporting

industries that are closely associated with these activities. Induced jobs – jobs formed as a result of

spending by this construction workers – are also counted in the FHWA’s employment total.

5. Gary Burtless, “Private Sector Payrolls Finally Top Pre-Recession Peak,” Brookings. April 4,

2014; and Christopher J. Goodman and Steven M. Mance, “Employment loss and the 2007–09 recession: an

overview,“ Monthly Labor Review, April 2011, p. 4.

6. Barry P. Bosworth and Sveta Milusheva, “Innovations in U.S. Infrastructure Financing: An

Evaluation,” (Washington, Brookings, 2011).

7. American Society of Civil Engineers. “Guiding Principles for the Nation’s Critical

Infrastructure.” (2009).

8. Larry Beeferman et al. “Infrastructure – Defining Matters.” Harvard Law School. Available

online at:

%20MATTERS %20FINAL.pdf. (Accessed March 6, 2014).

9. The National Academy of Sciences. Infrastructure for the 21st Century: Framework for a Research

Agenda. (Washington: National Academy Press, 1987). Available online at: record_id=798#toc

(Accessed March 6, 2014).

10. Mark Weisdorf. “Infrastructure: A Growing, Real Return Asset Class.” (New York: CFA Institute,


11. For more information on STEM jobs, including measures of employment, see: Jonathan Rothwell. “The

Hidden STEM Economy.” (Washington, Brookings, 2013).

12. Mark Muro et al. “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment.”

(Washington: Brookings, 2011).

13. For more information on the specific taxonomy behind these infrastructure assets, see: John Baldwin and Jay

Dixon. “Infrastructure Capital: What is It? Where is It? How Much of It Is There?” (Ottawa: Statistics

Canada, 2008).

14. Note that these sectors are intended to provide a clear and consistent way to group different

infrastructure activities, but they are not necessarily absolute in their separation. In many cases, more than one

sector can apply to certain NAICS industries, particularly those involved in transport or trade and logistics. It

is more critical here, then, that a NAICS industry can be classified under at least one of these sectors.

15. Given the out-of-scope service activities concentrated in schools, hospitals, and other social

institutions, these industries—and their related occupations—are excluded in the “public

works” sector.

16. The criteria used here follow the precedent established by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in

measuring green jobs. However, rather than using an output and process approach, these criteria relate more

directly to the services offered by particular industries and performed by certain occupations. In other words,

workers in these establishments must carry out at least one of four activities – designing, constructing,

operating, or governing – that support infrastructure, often with a clear public benefit over the course of

many years. Additional information on this approach can be found at the BLS Green Jobs homepage:

17. This analysis concentrates on direct jobs as opposed to indirect jobs tied to infrastructure. Several

reports that focus on stimulus spending consider employment multipliers to approximate the number of

infrastructure jobs found in the U.S. and elsewhere. More information on the importance of infrastructure

investment for economic productivity, employment, and other measures is described at length in: Richard Dobbs et

al. “Infrastructure Productivity: How to Save $1 trillion a Year.” (McKinsey Global Institute,


18. For more information on the 2010 SOC, see:

19. Note that employment totals for skills and projections are drawn from the BLS Employment Projections (EP)

Program, which relies on different methods than those used in the OES data. As a result, these figures may vary

slightly. For more information on EP methods, see:

20. For more information on OES pay terms, see:

21. Specific descriptions for these categories can be found at:

22. As described in the detailed methodology in Appendix B, occupations are identified based on a three-step

process: (1) their concentration in 42 infrastructure industries; (2) their concentration in related government

activities (NAICS 99); and (3) their particular tasks, knowledge, and work activities linked to the design,

construction, operation, and governance of the seven infrastructure sectors.

23. Specialized tasks, knowledge, and tools are among the job characteristics described in the Occupational

Information Network (O*NET), which is used as a guide throughout this report to examine occupations linked to

specific infrastructure assets. Similarly, BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook provides a wealth of

information when considering particular occupations. For more information, see:

24. Transportation infrastructure is especially notable in this respect, as exemplified by highway maintenance

workers, air traffic controllers, and subway and streetcar operators, among numerous other occupations.

25. The financing and operation of water infrastructure often entails widespread public sector involvement,

including several federal bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. For more information on drinking

water and wastewater infrastructure, in particular, see: U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Water

Infrastructure: Comprehensive Asset Management Has Potential to Help Utilities Better Identify Needs and Plan

Future Investments.” (2004).

26. As described in Appendix B, these infrastructure occupations and industries are not mutually exclusive; in

many cases, workers in the 95 infrastructure occupations are also employed in the 42 infrastructure industries.

However, the report employs a specific method to avoid double-counting these employment totals.

27. Construction workers, to be sure, play an enormous role in infrastructure projects, as captured across the

42 NAICS industries. However, many of these occupations are concentrated in residential and other building

construction, including specialized contractors, as opposed to heavy construction involving highways or utilities.

For more information on these jobs, see: Kristina Costa and Adam Hersh. “Infrastructure Spending Builds

American Jobs: Public Investments Help Private Businesses Create Jobs.” (Washington: Center for American

Progress, 2011).

28. Based on Brookings analysis of U.S. Census data.

29. Since cross-industry totals are included for infrastructure occupations, it is possible some temporary

workers are included in these metropolitan areas. For example, many workers can be employed in employment services

(NAICS 5613), including material movers in particular. However, this is still a small share of their total


30. Depending on the infrastructure definition used, employment in construction projects can be traced to

specific economic activities. For more information, see: Linda Levine. “Job Loss and Infrastructure Job

Creation During the Recession.” (Washington: Congressional Research Service, 2009).

31. Establishments in the construction sector (NAICS 23) can vary significantly in terms of the equipment used

and activities performed, as specified in the U.S. Census Bureau Industry Statistics Portal.

32. For more information on electricity infrastructure, in particular, see: American Society of Civil

Engineers. “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Electricity

Infrastructure.” (2011).

33. The mining activities described here are captured under NAICS 21.

34. Brookings analysis of Occupational Employment Statistics data.

35. While extraction facilities are outside the scope of this report, more information on these structures and

their relationship to infrastructure more broadly can be found in: Government Accountability Office.

“Climate Change: Energy Infrastructure Risks and Adaptation Efforts.” (2014).

36. For more background on the postal service’s infrastructure connections, see: U.S. Postal Service

Office of Inspector General. “Postal Service Contributions to National Infrastructure.” (2012)

37. Government Accountability Office. “U.S. Postal Service: The Service’s Strategy for Realigning

Its Mail Processing Infrastructure Lacks Clarity, Criteria, and Accountability.” (2005).

38. Truck drivers are currently facing new regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

(FMCSA) to improve safety and address fatigue, which will affect the number of hours many of these drivers can

work consecutively and weekly. While the issue continues to stir considerable debate, more than 85 percent of

these drivers will not be affected according to FMCSA. For more information on these regulations, see: Federal

Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “New Hours-of-Service Safety Regulations to Reduce Truck Driver Fatigue

Begin Today.” (2013). Online at:

truck-driver-fatigue-begin-today (Accessed April 3, 2014).

39. Whether it is high or low, wage dispersion can be the result of many different industry factors and

consequently entail many different meanings. For a brief description of this topic in light of occupational

employment data, see: John Jones. “An Investigation of Industry and Size Effects on Wage Dispersion.”

(Washington: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2003).

40 Rising levels of income inequality are a particular topic of interest in recent years. Statistical measures,

such as the 90/10 ratio used here, offer one way to measure inequality. For more information on these inequality

measures at the metropolitan scale, see: Alan Berube. “All Cities Are Not Created Unequal.”

(Washington: Brookings, 2014).

41. Note that only annual wages are reported for flight attendants, airline pilots, and commercial pilots,

which are included the 95 infrastructure occupations. Their annual wages, however, exceed the national


42. Livable wages are an ongoing topic of interest given cost of living considerations and numerous other

economic factors not examined in this report, which are prevalent throughout different metropolitan areas.

43. Unemployment rates for metropolitan areas in this report are based on annualized 2012 averages released by

the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program at BLS.

44. Note that the high school diploma category includes other educational equivalencies as included in data

from the BLS Employment Projection Program.

45. Beyond skills, unionization can also frequently be a contributing factor to the cost of replacing workers,

several of whom are included in infrastructure occupations. For additional background, see: Howard Kimeldorf.

“Worker Replacement Costs and Unionization: Origins of the U.S. Labor Movement.” (American

Sociological Review, Vol. 78, 2013, 1033-1062).

46. The Employment Projections Program considers replacement needs as a contributing factor in its employment

growth projections, as well as new opportunities calculated in total job openings over the next decade.

47. Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley.The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken

Politics and Fragile Economy. (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2013).

48. For more information on unemployment effects following the Great Recession, see: Congressional Budget

Office. “Understanding and Responding to Persistently High Unemployment.” (2012).

49. As specified under the Moving Ahead for Progress in 21st Century Act (MAP-21), a national

freight plan is currently being developed by the United States Department of Transportation in concert with other

public- and private-sector partners. Beyond the National Export Initiative, efforts to promote export growth in

metropolitan areas are being facilitated by the Brookings Metropolitan Export Initiative (MEI): (Accessed March 31,


50. Eduardo Porter. “Income Equality: A Search for Consequences.” The New York Times. March

25, 2014.

51. Similarly, the wages described here do not necessarily capture all forms of compensation, including

training opportunities, health insurance, or retirement benefits.

52. The Federal Aviation Administration has examined these replacement needs in greater depth. Needs for air

traffic controllers are highlighted in the following report: Federal Aviation Administration. “A Plan for

the Future: 10-Year Strategy for the Air Traffic Control Workforce, 2012-2021.” (2012).

53. Labeled a “mancession” by some economists, the Great Recession frequently had a

disproportionate effect on male workers. For more background, see: Catherine Rampell. “The

Mancession.” The New York Times. August 10, 2009. Additional demographic data by Census occupation is

available through the BLS Current Population Survey (CPS). Notably, several infrastructure occupations have a high

concentration of male workers, including electricians (98.2 percent) and pipelayers (98.9 percent). In contrast,

some infrastructure occupations like bus drivers and logisticians are more than 40 percent female.

54. Lawrence Summers. “Now Is the Time to Rebuild Our National Infrastructure.” The Huffington

Post. Available online at:

infrastructure- rebuild_b_5144081.html?utm_hp_ref=politics (Accessed April 14, 2014).

Comments are closed.