Commentary | Race and Ethnicity

Infrastructure investments and the Latino jobs recovery

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post

A crumbling infrastructure is bad for business. Just ask business owners in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. Recently, a water main broke in downtown Baltimore and shut down streets and caused major traffic delays. A number of businesses were forced to close, and those near the break that remained open saw fewer customers. Customers do not find flooded streets, broken roads, and traffic congestion positive additions to the shopping experience.

Baltimore is not unique. The water main that broke in Baltimore was installed in 1889. About 10 percent of the nation’s water mains are over 80 years old. Thirty percent are between 40 and 80 years old. There are approximately one thousand water main breaks in Baltimore each year. New York City reports about 600 a year. Los Angeles has about 1,400 a year. The Baltimore water main was listed at a high risk for failure three years ago. The nation’s water infrastructure is underfunded and faces growing replacement needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives America’s water infrastructure a D- rating.

The Society also gives a D- rating to our roads. Our transit systems receive a D. Our school infrastructure also obtains a D. Our public parks receive a C-. Our aviation infrastructure rates a D. Of the 15 different infrastructure areas rated, the highest grade was a C, which went to our bridges. Overall, the nation’s infrastructure received a D rating.

There are more than a million people unemployed from the construction industry – many of them Latino – who are looking for work. We have tremendous infrastructure needs that the federal government will eventually have to attend to. The obvious solution to both unemployment and crumbling infrastructure is to invest in important projects now and put construction workers to work rebuilding and repairing the nation’s infrastructure.

President Obama’s American Jobs Act contained substantial infrastructure investments, yet conservatives in Congress, more interested in playing politics than solving problems, have opposed it. Everyone benefits when the country has safe roads and bridges, clean water, and efficient transit and communication systems. Infrastructure investments deliver a big bang for the buck in job creation. There is no good reason for conservatives in Congress to oppose them. Just as our water mains serve us for many decades before they need repair or replacement, infrastructure investments made today will benefit our children and grandchildren and the businesses that they create.

While infrastructure is important to all Americans, it is a bit more important to unemployed Latinos today. Latino workers are over-represented in the construction industry. While Latinos make up 15 percent of the labor force, they make up 22 percent of the construction labor force. In rebuilding and repairing our infrastructure, Latinos will play a disproportionate role.

Latinos have an unemployment rate about 1.5 times as whites. Infrastructure investments are a good way to put significant numbers of Latinos back to work. Latinos need to mobilize to make their elected officials do the right thing and support greater investments in America’s infrastructure.

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