Denver Post, opinion
Stimulating good jobs
March 7, 2009
We need serious investment in this nation's infrastructure, beyond even the recently-passed stimulus package.
Polling shows broad support for bold measures that will generate economic activity, create and save jobs and build a more sustainable nation. Strikingly absent from the discussion of the stimulus, however, is any conversation about both the need and opportunity to create good jobs with this investment.
Our elected leaders should prioritize and promote projects that directly link spending of the stimulus with good paying middle class jobs and training.
If this new wave of investment only generates short term economic activity to construct infrastructure ó but does so without rebuilding the middle classówe will have squandered an opportunity to build a more equitable and stable economy.
Yes, the collapse of the housing bubble and the ripple effects of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco have created an economic freefall.
But working families were feeling squeezed long before this current crisis. Decades of bad economic policy laid the groundwork for these catastrophes by creating the worst disparity between rich and poor Americans since the late 1920s.
Data from 2007, released by the Economic Policy Institute, shows that despite huge gains in economic growth and productivity over the previous decade, workers and middle-class families suffered declining real incomes, while those with incomes in the top 10% enjoyed huge gains.
As we look to the future, we should not assume that just any job is a good job. Here in Colorado, we lost 16,200 non-farm payroll jobs last year. To put us on the path to economic recovery, the federal government needs to spend a lot of money, no doubt; but that spending should be directed in a way that creates high quality jobs with opportunities for advancement, ensures that low-income women and men can access and receive training for those jobs, and guarantees that hard work is rewarded.
A Whitehouse report predicts that the recently passed stimulus will create or save 59,000 Colorado jobs. The Federal government has done its part, now it is up to Colorado to ensure that these jobs restore hope for a better future and maybe a possibility to achieve the American Dream.
Just as the building of America's infrastructure after the Great Depression created shared prosperity among America's workers, we can do the same in our present day task of rebuilding Colorado's infrastructure. Local governments, working together with the private sector, community and labor movement, are positioned to forge this path together.
Many of the projects funded by the stimulus pose an opportunity to train a new generation of green collar construction workers. Our elected leaders should set goals and establish standards to get registered apprentices working on these projects.
These standards should also create a pathway for individuals in need of jobs to be apprentices on these projects.
Registered apprenticeships are high road training programs that create an opportunity for workers to earn money while they learn a new trade. These programs pay good wages, provide health coverage, and have built in career ladders that allow for workers to advance within the skilled trade and beyond.
Graduates from these programs have a nationally recognized credential, and many earn college credits they can use to pursue related careers like engineering or construction management. The infusion of stimulus dollars might not be sustained, but training a new generation of workers and entrepreneurs in green construction will lead to a more robust economy.
In addition to utilizing apprentices on public projects, elected leaders should preference and award stimulus dollars to contractors who provide family-supporting wages and benefits to their employees.
Wages are the primary form of economic stimulus as workers purchase goods and services that create additional jobs down-stream.
Awarding work to contractors who skimp on wages will only exacerbate Colorado's economic crisis as workers with inadequate wages or health care will still rely on the already unraveling public safety net.
With the billions of dollars about to be spent on infrastructure projects all across the country, Colorado should be a leader by piloting successful local initiatives for the creation of good jobs that can be used as a national model.
The stimulus is not the only federal spending that will benefit Colorado - new energy and transportation bills are also forthcoming.
Wherever public stimulus or infrastructure funds are spent, use of those funds should be conditioned on the recipient meeting rigorous job standards. The benefits to those workers, and the overall economy, will be tremendous.
By ensuring stimulus and infrastructure plans keep middle class families at the forefront, we can ensure longer-lasting and more sustainable economic growth.
Carmen Rhodes is executive director of FRESC for Good Jobs and Strong Communities. FRESC is a local non-profit working to create and retain good paying jobs, affordable housing, and environmental sustainability. EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an online-only column and has not been edited.