An analysis of occupational employment data for the United States reveals that:
- In 2012, 14.2 million workers were employed in infrastructure jobs across the country, accounting for
11 percent of national employment. Truck drivers, electricians, and civil engineers are among the
occupations employing the most workers overall, the broad majority of whom (77 percent) focus on operating
infrastructure rather than its construction (15 percent), design (6 percent), or governance (2 percent). At the
same time, 9.1 million of these jobs are found in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, with
logistics hubs like Memphis and Louisville having the highest share of workers involved in infrastructure-related
- Infrastructure occupations tend to offer more equitable wages compared to all occupations nationally,
paying over 30 percent more to workers at lower ends of the income scale. Workers in infrastructure
occupations earn significantly higher wages at the 10th and 25th percentile ($24,750 and $30,190) relative to all
workers in the U.S. ($18,090 and $22,480). These not only include specialized occupations that pay above-average
wages such as nuclear engineers and hydrologists, but also other sizable occupations such as telecommunication
line installers and water treatment plant operators found in nearly every metropolitan area throughout the
- More than 80 percent of workers employed in infrastructure occupations typically have short- to long-
term on-the-job training, but only 12 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and generally need less
education to qualify for these jobs. Many infrastructure jobs have low barriers of entry in terms of
formal education, including cargo agents, rail car repairers, and other trade occupations, which frequently rely
on skills developed on the job. However, these workers still earn competitive wages across a variety of
occupations, ranging from gas compressor operators to septic tank servicers.
- Infrastructure occupations are projected to increase 9.1 percent during the next decade, including the
need to replace more than 2.7 million workers. From 2012 to 2022, many infrastructure jobs are projected
to grow by thousands of additional workers, led by fast-growing occupations such as wind turbine service
technicians and solar photovoltaic installers. Critically, though, there will be a need to replace almost one
quarter of this infrastructure workforce due to retirements and other employment shifts.
This report sheds new light on the widespread contributions that infrastructure jobs make to the nation’s
economy, including their importance at the metropolitan level. Since many of these jobs offer more equitable
wages, require less formal education for entry, and are projected to grow over the next decade, they represent a
key area of consideration for policymakers aiming to address the country’s ongoing infrastructure and jobs
Brookings is a non-profit institution and the charts above were created using Highsoft software under a non-commercial license, the terms of which can be found here. Please note that Highsoft software is not free for commercial use.
For decades, policymakers have called for more spending on America’s infrastructure
to stimulate job growth. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan wanted to raise the federal gasoline tax by a nickel to
generate “real, worthwhile work.“1 President George H. W. Bush was widely quoted in 1991
after signing a federal transportation law that, he said, “could be summed up in three words: jobs, jobs,
jobs.”2 Similarly, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 focused on job preservation
by pumping billions of dollars into “shovel-ready” transportation, energy, and water
projects.3 In his latest State of the Union address, President Barack Obama noted how “first-
class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure” through new ladders of opportunity into the middle
In many ways, this focus is understandable in Washington and beyond given the recent economic struggles facing
the country. Construction jobs, after all, accounted for one-third of the jobs lost since the start of the Great
Recession, and they are still 1.5 million below their pre-recession level despite three years of steady
increases.5 Spending on infrastructure also attracts attention from policymakers owing to the large
multiplier effects these projects can often have on the overall economy, which can lead to gains in productivity
Yet, as policymakers continue to direct attention to infrastructure, they do not always identify the exact
types of jobs supported by these investments. By limiting infrastructure employment to construction alone, and
viewing it largely in terms of stimulus spending, policymakers have not considered the breadth of infrastructure
jobs found across the U.S. economy.
For example, investing in systems essential to providing clean water, efficient energy, and safe transportation
are key priorities in preparation for extreme weather events, but the particular jobs responsible for managing
these systems are often left undefined.7 Such ambiguity makes it difficult to develop targeted
solutions in a time of political gridlock and constrained budgets. Beyond investing in physical structures, then,
policymakers need to ask whether the nation has the workforce necessary to tackle these pressing challenges.
This report aims to define a more precise range of jobs in occupations and industries that play a distinct role
in the design, construction, operation, and governance of the nation’s infrastructure assets. It explores
where this employment is concentrated nationally and provides insight into the wages, projections, and skills
required for these jobs. Through this comprehensive approach, the report finds that infrastructure employment
spans across a variety of public and private sectors—from pipelines and railroads to warehouses and
utilities—containing an array of jobs that pay competitive wages, have low barriers of entry, and are
expected to grow in years to come.
Attempts to measure infrastructure employment are complicated by the ever-expanding and
evolving definition of infrastructure itself. Depending on the individual or organization involved in a given
project infrastructure can take on many different meanings and lead to an uneven assessment of its true extent,
economically or otherwise.8 On the one hand, infrastructure serves as an essential foundation for
public services such as water, electricity, and waste removal, which allow communities to function on a daily
basis.9 It also represents an important form of physical capital for investors interested in managing
risk, facilitating commerce, and building wealth.10 Still, to others, infrastructure includes social
institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons that are vital to the nation’s education, health, and
At the same time, determining which jobs fall under each of these categories can lead to a confounding number
of possibilities. Unlike workers in construction, manufacturing, or even STEM-related fields (science, technology,
engineering, and math), little precedent exists for identifying the knowledge required and activities carried out
by infrastructure workers.11 Since infrastructure spans numerous types of establishments, these workers
vary considerably in the products they handle and services they provide as well. Infrastructure jobs share many of
the same complexities of those jobs in the “clean” economy—the sector that produces goods and
services with an environmental benefit—which lack standard guidelines, definitions, and data to isolate
Our initial goal in this analysis is to develop a consistent definition for infrastructure, building on
previous reports to help capture a clear range of employment opportunities. Among prior studies, Statistics Canada
(StatCan) offers a detailed approach to measure infrastructure’s economic scope at a national level. By
classifying these assets into industry sectors on the basis of their physical functions and characteristics,
StatCan was able to compare infrastructure investments over time.13 Rather than relying on an ad hoc
definition as many reports do, we follow StatCan’s lead and focus on a set of tangible assets that support
the nation’s larger infrastructure network.
In turn, we establish the following definition of infrastructure:
In general, infrastructure encompasses a broad range of systems and facilities designed, constructed,
operated, and governed across the public and private sector. Foundational in nature, these physical assets are
either manmade or natural, often operate as part of larger networks, support a variety of economic activities, and
provide a host of other services with a clear public benefit over the course of many years.
As a first step, we use the seven infrastructure sectors described below. Each sector’s distinct
specialty—from transportation to water and energy—helps isolate the services provided within this
expansive space. Although the separation between these sectors is not absolute, each typically depends on
different frameworks to get projects done, contains assets overseen by unique groups of public and private actors,
and supports infrastructure in a highly individualized manner.14 In this way, the sectors offer a
useful guide to home in on specific jobs of interest.
Seven Infrastructure Sectors
Intra-Metro Transportation includes local roads and bridges; public transit such as subways and buses; taxis and limousines; sightseeing transportation; and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure.
Inter-Metro Transportation includes passenger rail, airports, and highways, and inter-urban and rural bus transportation.
Trade and Logistics includes freight rail, air cargo operations, trucking, seaports/inland waterways, transportation support, and warehousing and express/local delivery services.
Energy includes the generation, transmission, and distribution of energy from natural gas (pipelines), facilities responsible for electricity (nuclear, hydroelectric, and solar/wind), and other utilities.
Water includes clean/drinking water, stormwater, wastewater, sewage/water treatment facilities, and “green” infrastructure critical to conserving related natural resources.
Telecommunications include broadband and transmission infrastructure (wired, wireless, and satellite), concentrated in facilities outside radio and television broadcasting.
Public Works include streetscapes, land redevelopment, and waste/landfills (solid waste, hazardous materials, and remediation).15
Based on our definition, we consequently classified infrastructure jobs in terms of occupations and industries
engaged in these activities, regardless of the ownership or output associated with individual
establishments.16 Although this approach follows the green jobs methodology used by the U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics (BLS) to some degree, our analysis focuses more on the services provided by workers in relevant
activities rather than the type of products created. Workers who help forge metals, extract raw energy resources,
or assemble vehicles, for instance, are among those employed in jobs that fall outside the scope of this
As a result, workers may frequently carry out different responsibilities depending on their specific line of
work, but they directly support the long-term performance of the nation’s infrastructure across several
clearly delineated sectors.17 For example, although some engineers specialize in the design of bridges,
dams, and large-scale utility projects, other technicians concentrate on the operation of these facilities.
Meanwhile, pipe layers and electricians physically install needed components, and certain managers, analysts, and
planners contribute to oversight and governance.
Employment opportunities based on the total number of workers in occupations and industries in the seven infrastructure sectors.
The activities that employees regularly carry out for pay, which are grouped into distinct categories on the basis of similar job duties as outlined in the 2010 Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) system.18 In total, there are more than 800 detailed occupations found across all industries. “Infrastructure occupations,” in particular, are often concentrated in infrastructure activities and perform duties central to infrastructure design, construction, operation, and governance.
Groups of establishments that provide similar goods or services, as determined by the 2012 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Private and government-owned establishments are included, while agricultural establishments and private households are excluded. “Infrastructure industries,” in particular, provide services closely linked to at least one of the seven infrastructure sectors.
The total number of full-time and part-time workers paid a wage or salary, excluding household and self-employed workers, as defined in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey.19
Based on straight-time, gross pay over a standard work period, as defined in the OES survey. These include tips, production bonuses, cost-of-living allowances, and over-the-road pay based on mileage. However, overtime pay, back pay, and holiday bonuses are among the types of compensation excluded.20 Wages include mean hourly and annual pay, but also percentile wages (10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th). The latter are based on the percentage of workers who earn wages below a certain value. For instance, if $9.00 represents the 10th percentile wage for a given occupation, this means that 10 percent of workers employed in the occupation earn less than this amount.
Levels of education and training typically needed to perform the duties in a particular line of work. Similar to BLS, we use three categories to classify skills across different occupations: education required for entry, related work experience, and on-the-job training to demonstrate competency.21
Through this approach, we identify 95 occupations whose employment is often linked to specific
infrastructure assets and other relevant work activities.22 This report examines a variety of
occupations, including telecommunication line installers, power plant operators, and aircraft mechanics, many of
whom perform specialized tasks and use specialized knowledge and tools to support infrastructure
assets.23 Some occupations, such as railroad conductors and cargo agents, have especially high
concentrations of employment dealing with particular types of infrastructure. In other words, infrastructure jobs
are found in an assortment of occupations that are essential to the long-term operation of various infrastructure
assets. Public-sector workers at the federal, state, and local levels play a large role as well.24
Although several additional occupations could conceivably be considered—including those involved in the
postal service—the 95 occupations represent a discrete collection of jobs that design, construct, operate,
and govern the nation’s infrastructure in a well-defined capacity. Their employment, as such, is counted
across all industries at the national and metropolitan level.
To complement these 95 occupations, the analysis also includes workers employed in 42 industries closely
aligned with the seven infrastructure sectors. In addition to energy and transportation, many industries have a
clear focus in trade and logistics, as evident in the enormous employment totals for freight trucking,
warehousing, and delivery services. However, the notable lack of workers counted in several interrelated sectors,
such as water, illustrates how these industries do not necessarily capture a full range of infrastructure
employment on their own, pointing to the importance of the occupations defined above.25
For more information on the report’s methodology, see Appendix B in the PDF download.
A. In 2012, 14.2 million workers were employed in infrastructure jobs across the country, accounting
for 11 percent of national employment.
Nationally, infrastructure jobs touch every corner of the economy, supporting the movement of people and goods,
the distribution of energy and water, and the deployment of technologies and related services.
Of the 14.2 million workers involved in these infrastructure activities—making up 11 percent of the
nation’s total employment—11.4 million are employed in the 95 infrastructure occupations and 2.8
million are employed in the 42 infrastructure industries.26 Occupations with the most workers
include material movers, truck drivers, and electricians, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all infrastructure
jobs, while nuclear engineers, hydrologists, and logisticians are among the smaller, more specialized
infrastructure occupations. Combined, the 20 largest occupations make up nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all
infrastructure employment throughout the nation.
The 2.8 million workers in the 42 infrastructure industries are led by freight trucking, warehousing,
and wired telecommunications carriers. For the most part, these workers carry out generalized tasks in support of
larger infrastructure operations by fulfilling essential administrative duties, managing daily finances, and
providing a range of other services in different establishments. As a result, they can vary widely in their
occupational focus, despite their significant concentration in infrastructure industries. Office clerks,
accountants, customer service representatives, operating engineers, and construction laborers rank among the
largest occupations in this respect.
Contrary to popular belief, most workers employed in infrastructure jobs tend to operate physical assets,
rather than constructing or installing them.27 Across all infrastructure occupations, 77 percent of
workers are primarily concerned with operation versus 15 percent with construction, 6 percent with design, and
fewer than than 2 percent with governance. This focus is also apparent among workers in the 20 largest
infrastructure occupations in Table 1, where 7.4 million work in operations (81 percent) compared to only 1.3
million in construction (15 percent). These shares help to not only clarify the type of duties in infrastructure
occupations, but also underscore the variety of tasks—and skills needed—to maintain infrastructure
assets in the long term.
Infrastructure workers also play a key role in driving metropolitan economic growth. Combined, 9.1
million workers are employed in infrastructure jobs in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, and they make up 64
percent of U.S. infrastructure employment, on par with their 66 percent share of the country’s
population.28 Trade and logistics jobs are particularly widespread and represent four of the five
largest infrastructure occupations; material movers, heavy truck drivers, light truck drivers, and packers and
packagers alone account for 36 percent of all metropolitan infrastructure employment.
Not surprisingly, the largest labor markets have the most infrastructure employment overall. For example,
New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are the nation’s three largest labor markets and alone contain more than
1.8 million infrastructure workers. This total exceeds the number of infrastructure workers employed in the
smallest 55 metropolitan areas combined. Poughkeepsie, Palm Bay, and Colorado Springs, for example, are among the
nation’s smallest markets and have fewer than 60,000 workers employed in infrastructure jobs.
As a share of total employment, however, infrastructure jobs stand out in several metropolitan areas and reveal
distinct patterns in labor specialization. In total, 46 metropolitan areas have shares of infrastructure
employment above the national average (11 percent). These include warehousing and logistics hubs such as Memphis
(17.8 percent) and Louisville (13.6 percent) as well as energy and utility centers such as New Orleans (12.8
percent) and Houston (12.5 percent).29 Seattle has the most avionics technicians, Richmond has the most
nuclear engineers, and Chicago has the most septic tank servicers. In contrast metropolitan areas that are not
major logistics hubs but have other economic specialties have lower shares of infrastructure employment, such as
Washington, D.C. (8.4 percent), Austin, TX (8.8 percent), and Tucson, AZ (8.9 percent).
Beyond Infrastructure: Examining Out-of-Scope Occupations and Industries
Infrastructure jobs cut across a number of occupations and industries, but millions of closely related jobs
appear in several additional areas of the economy. Although these jobs involve similar skills and
responsibilities, they do not connect as directly to the infrastructure sectors outlined in this report. Instead,
they are frequently found in residential and other building construction, mining and energy extraction, and the
postal service. In many cases, workers in these jobs focus on projects over a shorter timeframe and carry out a
wider range of tasks that fall outside the scope of infrastructure design, construction, operation, and
For example, residential and other building construction employs more than 4 million workers, who concentrate
on the installation of windows, flooring, and site-specific improvements.30 Roofers and brick masons,
in turn, are among the many trade occupations in these industries and have duties that differ markedly depending
on the contractor involved, unlike workers employed in heavy and civil engineering construction.31 On
the other hand, electricians and pipelayers in residential and other building projects help maintain the energy
and water systems crucial to long-term infrastructure performance, so they are included in this
In the same way, only certain jobs in mining and extraction are counted, rather than the industry as a whole.33 The generation, transmission, and distribution of energy rely on numerous infrastructure assets,
ranging from hydroelectric plants and wind turbines to power lines and pipes. These jobs require more than 1
million workers.34 The mining sector alone, however, employs nearly 800,000 workers and focuses on
extracting the raw materials needed to fuel this network. Similar to manufacturing, jobs in mining are
primarily concerned with achieving higher levels of physical output, using inputs to drive productivity in
oilfields, natural gas platforms, and refineries.35 Although certain pump operators are critical in the
larger infrastructure network, several occupations such as derrick operators and roustabouts are limited to
extraction activities and are not included in this report.
Despite its enormous role linking national communications and commerce, the U.S. Postal Service has jobs that
do not always clearly relate to trade and logistics infrastructure.36 Employing more than 600,000
workers, the Postal Service depends on an extensive assortment of mail processing facilities, distribution
centers, and retail outlets, each of which requires different types of labor and has different efficiency
concerns.37 Although these individual establishments can have operations that closely parallel those in
express delivery services and local messengers, both of which are included in this report, it is harder to
distinguish the types of services postal workers offer in some cases. Clerks, mail carriers, and machine
operators, for instance, may be responsible for a variety of tasks during the delivery process, as opposed to the
truck drivers and cargo agents in warehousing and other well-defined freight activities.
B. Infrastructure occupations tend to offer more equitable wages than all occupations nationally,
paying over 30 percent more to workers at lower ends of the income scale.
Infrastructure wages can vary widely depending on the specific occupation. As shown in Figure 3, though,
infrastructure jobs tend to pay higher wages to workers at the 10th and 25th percentile ($24,750 and $30,190
annually) compared with all occupations nationally ($18,090 and $22,480), signaling their importance to workers at
lower ends of the income spectrum. More than 7 million workers—across 86 different infrastructure
occupations—earn more at these percentiles, including truck drivers, civil engineers, and water treatment
plant operators.38 Infrastructure occupations also frequently pay higher median wages ($38,480) than
the national median ($34,750); traffic technicians and sailors are among the infrastructure occupations earning
median wages around $38,000.
While many infrastructure occupations pay lower wages to workers at the 75th and 90th percentile, their wages
are more evenly distributed relative to all occupations in the United States. This lower wage dispersion, in
turn, may indicate the potential for less wage growth in the long run, but may also lead to greater certainty for
workers employed in these jobs, which benefit from structured wage practices as a result of unionization or other
industry norms.39 For example, the ratio of wages earned by workers at the 90th and 10th percentile is
significantly less for infrastructure jobs (2.5) than all others nationally (4.8) (see Figure 4). From ship
captains (4.0) and nuclear technicians (2.3) to subway and streetcar operators (1.9), this 90/10 ratio is lower
for workers in every infrastructure occupation compared with the nation as a whole, illustrating a more equitable
distribution of incomes overall.40
Although workers in infrastructure occupations earn more equitable wages as a whole, they earn slightly less on
average ($19.39 per hour or $40,970 annually) than workers in all occupations nationally ($22.01 and $45,790).
Packers and packagers ($10.80), bus drivers ($14.01), and highway maintenance workers ($17.43) are among the
largest occupations paying the least. Nonetheless, 59 of the infrastructure occupations pay above-average wages,
with air traffic controllers ($56.94 per hour), nuclear engineers ($51.51), and marine engineers and naval
architects ($46.22) leading the way.41
These national wage patterns are also evident in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, often reflecting
distinctive types of local infrastructure jobs. For example, as a hub for several passenger and cargo airlines,
Atlanta employs many high-paying pilots, aircraft mechanics, and freight agents. Likewise, Baton Rouge has
hundreds of well-paid petroleum pump operators and pipefitters, drawing from the strength of its energy sector.
Cost-of-living, of course, is an important factor determining the relative wages in these areas, but
infrastructure jobs continue to offer competitive wages for lower-income workers in particular, regardless of
Indeed, infrastructure occupations in every metropolitan area except McAllen, TX, and El Paso, TX – which
have outsized concentrations of lower-paying material movers—pay higher wages to workers at the 10th and
25th percentile relative to all occupations nationally. The differences are notable across the country, even in
metropolitan areas with persistently high unemployment rates such as Stockton, CA, and Detroit. Together, these
two areas have more than 100,000 workers employed in infrastructure occupations paying higher wages at the 10th
percentile than the nation as a whole.43
C. More than 80 percent of workers employed in infrastructure occupations typically have short- to
long-term on-the-job training, but only 12 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and generally need
less education to qualify for these jobs.
Infrastructure jobs typically require less formal education and thus have lower barriers to entry. For example,
the highest level of education for 57 percent of infrastructure workers is a high school diploma or less. This
compares with 34 percent of workers employed in all occupations nationally.44 Moreover, with a combined
employment of 9 million workers, 67 of the 95 infrastructure occupations only require a high school diploma or
less for entry. Wages for these jobs, though, remain competitive: 59 of the 67 occupations pay higher wages to
workers at the 10th percentile than nationally. Paving equipment operators, solar photovoltaic installers, and
septic tank servicers are among the many occupations that fall into this category. See Table 2.
Nevertheless, several higher-paying infrastructure occupations require additional postsecondary education for
entry, with many of these workers holding a bachelor’s degree or higher (see Table 3). For example, seven of
the ten infrastructure occupations paying the highest average wages overall require a bachelor’s degree or
higher. Civil engineers are among the largest of these occupations, followed by logisticians and environmental
engineers. Many of these jobs are concentrated in infrastructure design and governance, with six of the ten
highest-paying occupations primarily focused on one of these two activities. In contrast, all of the ten lowest-
paying occupations focus on infrastructure construction or operation.
However, regardless of education, most workers employed in infrastructure occupations rely on skills developed
through on-the-job training. In total, 73 of the 95 infrastructure occupations, covering 10 million workers, call
for short or long-term on-the-job training, or an apprenticeship, as general requirements for competency.
Electricians, plumbers, and other traditional trade occupations are the most common in this respect.
In addition, infrastructure jobs requiring hands-on experience often pay well. Nearly 6 million workers
employed in 64 of these 73 occupations earn higher wages at the 10th and 25th percentile, illustrating the breadth
of higher-paying infrastructure opportunities available to those who may lack an advanced degree but demonstrate
the ability to perform tasks on the job. Indeed, in the same 73 infrastructure occupations calling for on-the-job
training, only 10 require some form of postsecondary education beyond a high school diploma.
D. Infrastructure occupations are projected to increase 9.1 percent during the next decade,
including the need to replace more than 2.7 million workers.
From 2012 to 2022, infrastructure occupations are projected to grow by 1.1 million workers, led by an
additional 242,000 material movers, 193,000 truck drivers, and 115,000 electricians. Fast-growing occupations
include wind turbine service technicians, solar photovoltaic installers, and logisticians, each of which is
expected to see employment increase by more than 20 percent. Moreover, many workers in these occupations
hold a high school diploma or less (see Table 4). Overall, 74 of the 95 infrastructure occupations are projected
to grow, with declines in only a few occupations, such as ticketing agents, meter readers, and locomotive
Although infrastructure occupations have a projected rate of employment growth (9.1 percent) slightly lower
than all occupations nationally (10.8 percent), their replacement rate is quite high. Due to retirements and other employment shifts, 57 infrastructure occupations are projected to exceed the national replacement rate. This means that these occupations will need to replace more than 23.4 percent of their workforce during the next decade.
As shown in Table 4, some occupations are projected to replace at least 40 percent of their workers, including
ship engineers, air traffic controllers, and bridge and lock tenders. Significantly, these jobs are also often
more specialized than the many lower-skilled service occupations that experience high turnover, such as waiters,
cashiers, or tellers, making them more indispensible and costlier to replace in the long run for individual
establishments.45 In this way, there is a clear need to fill the employment gap resulting from these
projected replacements during the next several years, even as new job openings emerge elsewhere to help fuel
additional employment growth.46
As the nation continues to pull out of the Great Recession, policymakers must consider a
broader range of development strategies and employment opportunities to drive future economic growth. Although
metropolitan areas are leading this charge—creating a variety of innovative partnerships, programs, and
policies across the public and private sectors—millions of workers still sit on the sidelines struggling to
find and fill the jobs that support all this activity.47 Stubbornly high unemployment not only wastes
an enormous pool of talent, but also acts as a continual drag on spending and output, holding back new projects
and investments in the country.48
Given its widespread economic impact, however, infrastructure is uniquely positioned to address these
challenges in both the short and long term. Employing more than 14 million workers across 95 different occupations
and 42 industries, infrastructure jobs are numerous and diverse, engaged in activities crucial to the
nation’s economic competiveness.
At the same time, because many of these jobs tend to focus on operating rather than constructing infrastructure
assets, they should figure prominently in discussions concerning infrastructure investment over many years. Too
often, calls for infrastructure investment only focus on the jobs involved at the beginning of a project’s
lifecycle. Policymakers need to view the costs and benefits of designing, constructing, operating, and governing
infrastructure over several decades, which necessarily involves millions of workers. The large number of workers
involved in trade and logistics, for instance, is a key factor to consider as policymakers develop national
freight plans and export strategies.49
In addition, infrastructure jobs are prominent in metropolitan areas, underscoring their importance to local
industries, utilities, and other government bodies. From Atlanta and Indianapolis to Riverside and Oklahoma City,
metropolitan areas vary widely in their economic base—whether oriented toward energy, trade, or another
sector—but regardless of the base, their infrastructure workforce can account for up to 18 percent of total
employment. As metropolitan leaders explore ways to create more and better jobs, they should note
infrastructure’s contribution to their labor market.
Since infrastructure jobs often pay higher wages to workers at lower ends of the income ladder, they can also
be accessible to many potential jobseekers, offering a clearer path to better employment opportunities. The need
to identify well-paying jobs poses a serious challenge during the economic recovery, as workers settle for
positions below their abilities and issues of income inequality dominate national headlines.50 The
growing wedge between high-income earners and others, in particular, continues to raise awareness of these
economic issues and lead to questions over possible long-term strategies across the public and private
In the past, policymakers have focused on infrastructure jobs with stimulus spending, but by considering a new
range of infrastructure industries and occupations, they can begin to direct more attention to long-term
employment opportunities supported by these investments. A full assessment of infrastructure wages, of course,
involves many factors beyond the scope of this report, including the number of hours worked, cost of living,
whether the jobs are temporary or permanent, and the location of jobs within metropolitan areas. However, these
factors should not diminish infrastructure’s sizable impact on workers at all income
Finally, with their emphasis on training rather than formal education, infrastructure jobs may appeal to a
broad class of workers who lack advanced degrees. Because many of these jobs are projected to grow over the next
decade and have high replacement rates, a new generation of workers will need to fill this void and manage the
nation’s most valuable infrastructure assets. In the federal workforce alone, air traffic controllers are
expected to see a wave of retirements in the coming years, with the Federal Aviation Administration having hired
more than 7,500 controllers from 2007 to 2012 to accommodate these changes.51 Moreover, the physical
demands required in certain infrastructure occupations may be attractive to the disproportionate number of male
workers unemployed following the Great Recession.53 Policymakers would be well advised to monitor these
types of labor needs and skill requirements in light of relevant training programs and career pathways.
As the American economy continues to recover and make gains in the labor market, it has a long way to go to
repair the damage wrought by the Great Recession, particularly in the construction sector.54
Policymakers have often framed stimulus spending on infrastructure as a way to address these kinds of losses by
promoting short-term job creation, assisting state and local governments, and providing much-needed investments in
a range of projects.
Although construction workers play a pivotal role building and maintaining infrastructure, this report shows
they only compose a fraction of the entire workforce responsible for managing the nation’s physical assets.
To help promote additional trade, move more passengers, ensure the efficient use of energy and water, and carry
out other infrastructure-related activities, it is essential to gain a firmer understanding of the employment
opportunities behind these investments. This report is a first step in that task.