Ever play musical chairs as a kid? There’s a certain thrill as you walk around the circle, wondering when the music will stop and whether you’ll make it to a chair in time.
I thought of this recently as I was reading some of the recent jobs numbers and about the two-year transportation bill passed by the U.S. Senate – a $109 billion surface transportation bill. Construction is labor-intensive and requires manpower, but we first need to move some dirt. Unfortunately, a 2-year transportation bill won’t cut it. Why? Because major projects cannot be completed in such a short timeframe and may never be funded as a result. What we need is something like a six-year, properly funded bill so that states can plan. A long-term plan allows for projects that need long-term funding.
We are adding jobs – we added 227,000 in February according to the Wall Street Journal – but we’re not adding them fast enough. In fact, the same paper noted there are 5.25 million less jobs available than there were prior to the recession. What this equates to is a whole lot of people circling around looking for jobs but not nearly enough jobs to go around, and the music has stopped.
There are 23.5 million Americans out of work or underemployed, and according to the Washington Post more than 5 million people have been unemployed for longer than six months.
The unemployment rate is currently stagnant at 8.3% and in the construction industry we have fared far worse. The real unemployment number in construction is somewhere around 17.3%, up from the bottom of 22% we saw in 2009. In our industry, it’s not whether you’ll get one of the available chairs, it’s whether you can even find a chair at all.
Until we have a government that stops dawdling and passes real legislation that can have a lasting impact we will be left with the problem of too many people circling and not enough chairs to go around.
President, National Precast Concrete Association
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