Monday, 29 September 2008 08:44
September 30, 2008
Construction jobs still growing, but opportunities passing over women, African-Americans.
(Washington, DC) - As Congress contemplates another economic stimulus bill focused on transportation construction, a new report shows that women and minorities are least likely to receive the benefit of those jobs.
The report, The Road to Good Jobs: Patterns of Employment in the Construction Industry, an expansion of last year's first-ever such study, also notes that building public transit and maintaining highways would create more - and greener - jobs than building highways.
Researchers at the University of Missouri - St. Louis examined minority and female employment in 25 metro areas and found that white males dominate construction work, regardless of the racial and gender makeup of the local workforce as a whole. Overall, the authors calculate that 137,044 black workers are "missing" from the construction workforce in those large metropolitan areas. In other words, if blacks participated in construction at the same rate they participated in all industries, thousands more blacks would be employed in construction.
Some of the metro areas with the largest African-American populations also had the largest gaps in black employment. Atlanta led with an 18-percent gap, followed by Baltimore, Dallas and Houston.
Though representing half of the population, women held only a small percentage of the jobs, ranging from a high of 9 percent in Cincinnati to a low of 1 percent in Cleveland. This was true despite the fact that construction has become increasingly mechanized. The authors contend that a female share of 25 percent would be an appropriate level of participation.
In almost every city studied, Hispanics held a much higher percentage of construction jobs than their numbers would indicate. In 22 of 25 cities Hispanics had a greater presence in construction than in the workforce generally. By a tiny margin, Hispanics in only three cities (Cleveland, Boston, and Pittsburgh) held a smaller percentage of the construction workforce than the general workforce. Dallas, Atlanta, and Washington, DC all had negative employment gaps of 40 percent or more, meaning that Hispanics are employed at a much higher rate than the general workforce.
But are those jobs necessarily good jobs?"
Average hourly wages in transportation-related construction run from $15.65 in Dallas to $27.70 in Chicago, but when the cost of living is considered, construction jobs provide a living wage for one adult and one child in all 25 metro areas. But some areas do much better than others. The top metro area in the country is St. Louis, where the average construction wage is 1.78 times the living wage. Chicago (1.69) and Seattle (1.56) follow behind St. Louis. The worst metropolitan areas for construction wages are Tampa Bay (1.02) Miami (1.03) and Washington, D.C. (1.05).
Those workers who were members of a union typically earned more in wages, and those wages had greater buying power than those who were not, the study found.
St. Louis construction workers, who have the highest unionization rate (41.9 percent), also have greatest buying power (78 percent higher than a "living wage", defined as the minimum amount needed to meet basic needs without public assistance). On the other hand, Dallas construction workers, who have the lowest unionization rate (1.6 percent), have weak buying power from their wages (just 7 percent above the living wage).
"Construction jobs pay well and offer on-the-job training," said lead author Dr. Todd Swanstrom, a professor of public policy at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. "But most importantly, the looming shortage of skilled construction workers presents an opportunity to employ women, minorities, and other disadvantaged groups without displacing current workers."
As the population ages, the Aspen Institute projects, there is likely to be zero growth in the native labor supply in the next twenty years. "The construction industry will have to reach out to immigrants, as well as previously excluded groups such as women and minorities, to meet the demand in this growing industry," Swanstrom added.
"There's an extraordinary opportunity to ensure that women and minorities receive a fair chance at this opportunity to earn a decent wage," said Laura Barrett of the Gamaliel Foundation and the Transportation Equity Network. "Transportation projects are largely built with public dollars, offering us the ability to ensure that these jobs have strong wages, room for advancement, and the security of benefits and healthcare."
Building on the release of last year's report, the JOBS NOW campaign has continued to win victories around the nation:
<!--[The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) signed agreements with grassroots coalitions in Kansas City and St. Louis committing ½ of 1 percent of federal highway dollars on specific projects to local workforce development.
<!--[In St. Louis, 59 minorities, women, and low-income persons are now employed on the I-64 project because of this agreement.
<!--[The Michigan Department of Transportation committed to a 4-year, $15 million state policy that will direct transportation funds into local job training.
<!--[A TEN affiliate in Minnesota helped pass statewide legislation committing the state Department of Transportation to spending the "maximum amount feasible" on local workforce development.
The 25 metropolitan areas, listed by population, are New York, NY, Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, Philadelphia, PA, Dallas, Miami, Washington (DC), Houston, Detroit, Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, Riverside (CA), Phoenix, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, St. Louis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Denver, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Portland, OR.
"The Road to Good Jobs" offers several proposals to provide millions of Americans with good jobs and create a green economy. The federal government currently spends about $60 billion dollars a year on transportation. The next federal transportation bill, scheduled for reauthorization in 2009, provides an opportunity to ensure that transportation spending does the most to stimulate the economy while providing good jobs to the people that most need them.
The report recommends increased investment in public transportation, which creates more jobs than highway projects, while having the added benefits of providing alternatives to high gas prices and lowering emissions. The report also calls for a "fix it first" policy for highway construction, concentrating investment in repairing roads and bridges to ensure they are safe before expending finances on building new ones.
The Transportation Equity Network also recommends policies to increase job training, including funding the "Green Jobs" provisions passed by Congress, requiring a portion of spending on transportation projects to go towards job training and ensuring members of the local community are employed in transportation projects. The report shows that union jobs are correlated with higher wages and calls for protecting the rights of workers to organize. TEN is also calling on state and local governments to pass policies to spur the green economy and pass workforce development policies and ordinances that will increase job-training monies and encourage diversity in the workforce.
Contact: Laura Barrett
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