President Obama’s economic stimulus will fund 650,000 construction jobs and another 300,000 jobs in materials and equipment supply, The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC of America) estimates.
But with 1.8 million construction workers currently out of work and an industrywide unemployment rate of 19.2 percent in January 2009, the spending plan is more likely to stop job hemorrhaging than it is to create new jobs, at least initially.
“It’s going to take until the second half of 2010 before we’re talking about net increases in jobs rather than decreases,” predicts Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein. “Most of the hardhats who’ve been laid off over the last two years are not going to work building homes tomorrow. They might find work repairing a pothole or a sewer, but construction is not going to come roaring back.”
The National Association of Home Builders, meanwhile, says the stimulus plan’s home-buyer tax credit will lead to a half-million additional home sales, creating 255,000 jobs related to residential construction in the year ahead.
The stimulus bill includes money for construction-related projects ranging from bridge, highway and sanitation system repairs to green jobs building a new digital power grid and improving and building new structures so they use less energy, raw materials and water.
How quickly will those stimulus jobs come online? “Quite fast,” says Ken Simonson, chief economist for The Associated General Contractors of America. Moments after President Obama signed the legislation, the Missouri Department of Transportation began work on the first stimulus project, replacing the Osage River Bridge in Tuscumbia.
Stimulus projects that can be completed within a year include road improvements, school remodeling, airport renovations, and sewer and waste-disposal upgrades, Simonson says.
State stimulus road, bridge, highway and water-treatment projects will put cement workers, masons, carpenters and heavy equipment operators to work, says Tom Owens, communications director for the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department.
Idled construction industry workers may be able to find stimulus-related energy work as subcontractors. “It’s no different than other aspects of construction,” says Donald Gilligan, president of the National Association of Energy Service Companies. “If you’re going to put in a furnace, you do the same things whether it’s an efficient furnace or not. You can do insulation to a new house or an existing house. People who have been in the construction business will have to learn a few different techniques, but not all that much, to be able to adapt to doing energy-efficiency projects.”
Water and sewer systems may be the least glamorous area of stimulus construction project spending, but they’ll see $7 billion of the funds sent to states. Heavy equipment operators, concrete workers and masons will all be needed for those projects, Simonson says.
The industries that supply the construction field will also get a boost from the stimulus plan, including steel, asphalt, concrete, metals, plastics, rubber, heavy equipment and machinery.
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If you’re in the construction field and out of work, check with your state’s unemployment office to find out what training might be available to help you transition into green construction, which is heavily funded by the stimulus.
Now is also the time to get in touch with companies in your area that do commercial construction as well as the local union hiring hall to see if stimulus money is already flowing into your area. “Watch the papers and Web sites, such as Recovery.gov and the Associated General Contractors of America's stimulus site,” Simonson says. “This is going to be getting a lot of attention and we expect to see contracts being signed right away.”