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Talking Points

The Case for an Infrastructure-Led Jobs and Growth Strategy

February 23, 2010 |

As the Senate takes up a greatly scaled down $15 billion jobs bill stripped of all infrastructure spending, the nation should consider the compelling case for public infrastructure investment offered by Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and Ed Rendell (D-PA).  Appearing on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, the bipartisan Co-Chairs of Building America's Future explained why rebuilding America's infrastructure is the key to both job creation in the short and medium term and our prosperity in the longer term.

Rather than go from one negligible jobs bill to the next, the administration and Congress should, as the governors suggest, map out a multi-year plan of infrastructure investment and make it the centerpiece of an ongoing economic recovery program.

Here is why:

With American consumers constrained by high household debt levels and with businesses needing to work off overcapacity in many sectors, we need a new, big source of economic growth that can replace personal consumption as the main driver of private investment and job creation.  The most promising new source of growth in the near to medium term is America's pent-up demand for public infrastructure improvements in everything from roads and bridges to broadband and air traffic control systems to a new energy grid. We need not only to repair large parts of our existing basic infrastructure but also to put in place the 21st-century infrastructure for a more energy-efficient and technologically advanced society. This project, entailing billions of dollars of new government spending over the next five to ten years, would generate comparable levels of private investment and provide millions of new jobs for American workers.

More specifically, public infrastructure investment would have the following favorable benefits for the economy:

Job Creation.  Public infrastructure investment would directly create jobs, particularly high-quality jobs, and thus would help counter the 8.4 million jobs lost since the Great Recession began.  One study estimates that each billion dollars of spending on infrastructure can generate up to 17,000 jobs directly and up to 23,000 jobs by means of induced indirect investment.  If all public infrastructure investment created jobs at this rate, then $300 billion in new infrastructure spending would create more than five million jobs directly and millions more indirectly, helping to return the economy to something approaching full employment.

A Healthy Multiplier Effect. Public infrastructure investment not only creates jobs but generates a healthy multiplier effect throughout the economy by creating demand for materials and services. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that, for every $1 billion invested in federal highways, more than $6.2 billion in economic activity is generated. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com, offers a more conservative but still impressive estimate of the multiplier effect of infrastructure spending, calculating that every dollar of increased infrastructure spending would generate a $1.59 increase in GDP. Thus, by Zandi's conservative estimates, $300 billion in infrastructure spending would raise GDP by nearly $480 billion (close to 4 percent). 

A More Productive Economy.  Public infrastructure investment would not only help stimulate the economy in the short term but help make it more productive over the long term, allowing us to grow our way out of the increased debt burdens resulting from the bursting of the credit bubble.   As numerous studies show, public infrastructure increases productivity growth, makes private investment more efficient and competitive, and lays the foundation for future growth industries. In fact, many of the new growth sectors of the economy in agriculture, energy, and clean technology require major infrastructure improvements or new public infrastructure.

Needed Investments that Will Pay for Themselves.  New infrastructure investment can easily be financed at historically low interest rates through a number of mechanisms, including the expansion of Build America Bonds and Recovery Zone bonds (tax-credit bonds that are subsidized by favorable federal tax treatment) and the establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank.  Public infrastructure investment will pay for itself over time as a result of increased productivity and stronger economic growth. Several decades of underinvestment in public infrastructure has created a backlog of public infrastructure needs that is undermining our economy's efficiency and costing us billions in lost income and economic growth.  By making these investments now, we would eliminate costly bottlenecks and make the economy more efficient, thereby allowing us to recoup the cost of the investment through stronger growth and higher tax revenues.

The most promising new source of growth is America's pent-up demand for public infrastructure improvements.

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