Major investment in infrastructure would help to restart the economy by directly sustaining and creating millions of jobs for American workers. These workers would jump-start growth in other sectors by spending their new earnings in their communities, even during this time of social distancing—for example, at local stores and restaurants. This, in turn, would send a signal to private companies to begin hiring and investing in capital projects. Federal policymakers must act now to ensure that state and local governments, which oversee most infrastructure, are able to get new projects moving forward as soon as it is safe for everyone to go back to work.
Ideally, Congress would act now to pass major infrastructure legislation that would provide money over a five- or 10-year period. Infrastructure projects do not start and stop on a dime. State and local governments must make a long-term funding commitment. With the current authorization for highway and transit programs set to expire at the end of September, there is no reason to wait on enactment of a major infrastructure plan.
While President Donald Trump is yet again signaling interest in taking up a major infrastructure package, he has repeatedly failed to move such proposals forward to Congress.6 If a major infrastructure package fails to be enacted during this session, Congress and whoever is elected president this fall must prioritize these investments in the next session.
Simply spending more money is not enough to build inclusive prosperity for America’s working families. In order to maximize the benefit of infrastructure spending, policymakers must attach standards to ensure that private sector companies receiving support create good jobs. After weeks of going without pay, many Americans will be desperate for income and willing to accept jobs from low-road employers that are willing to break the law or pay below market wages. Allowing bad actors to benefit would not only harm workers and drive down pay in subsidized sectors but also slow the economic rebound, as workers earning lower wages would have less ability to spread gains throughout the economy.