Road Construction Workers in the Midwest are VERY Productive

Frank Manzo IV is the Policy Director of the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI). Visit MEPI online follow the affiliated Illinois Economic Policy Institute on Twitter @illinoisEPI.

Construction workers who specialize in road and bridge infrastructure projects are productive, high-skilled, and well-paid in the Midwest, a new report by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations finds. Released today, Road and Bridge Construction Workers in the Midwest [PDF] compares “highway, street, and bridge construction” workers and contractors in the five Great Lakes states– Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin– to the rest of the nation. Key findings from the report include:

  • The large majority of road and bridge construction work is financed by, or with assistance from, the public sector.
  • Employment in construction jobs is expected to increase by 21.4 percent over the next decade, the second-fastest growing occupation. The majority of these new employment opportunities will require the completion of a three- to five-year apprenticeship program.
  • In 2013, candidates with associate’s degrees and who completed apprenticeship programs filled three out of every five new construction jobs in the Great Lakes region.
  • Road and bridge construction workers each produce an average of $155,100 in economic value for the Great Lakes region, second only to their counterparts in the Far West states ($162,461 per worker). Wisconsin’s street, highway, and bridge construction workers were the most productive in the Great Lakes region, annually contributing an average of $184,592 to the economy.
  • Construction workers in the Great Lakes region build highways in a cost-effective manner, constructing each lane-mile up to 43 percent cheaper than the national average.
  • The apprenticeship share– the ratio of active apprentices to total workers in construction occupations– is higher in states with a prevailing wage law (7.7 percent) than in states without a prevailing wage law (5.4 percent). Additionally, 10 percentage-point increase in a state’s construction industry unionization rate is associated with a 3.2 percentage-point average increase in its apprenticeship share.

Construction workers across the Great Lakes region are well-compensated and can support a middle-class family. Road and bridge construction workers receive significant training in the Great Lakes states and, in turn, translate their increased human capital into higher levels of productivity for employers. Unfortunately, there are threats across the Midwest to weaken the institutions that are statistically correlated with increased worker efficiency, including prevailing wage laws and trades unions. If the Great Lakes region is to remain one of the nation’s leaders in worker productivity on public construction projects, these institutions must be both defended and strengthened.

The report is currently available on Scribd at this link (updated 3/1/2015 at 5:30pm) and will be uploaded to the University of Illinois and the Midwest Economic Policy Institute websites in the next week.

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