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Infrastructure Spending & Jobs

3-22-17

This is a summary of the main points on Infrastructure from several recent articles. Those articles detail current market conditions, growth already in backlog and future growth potential. The articles (linked here) are:

Non-building Infrastructure spending in 2016 will finish at $290 billion, down 1% from 2015. Negative drivers were Transportation, Sewage/Waste Disposal, Communications and Water Supply.  However, Power and Highway/Bridge, 57% of all infrastructure, were both up. Spending based on projected cash flow from Dodge Data Starts predicted this drop.

  • In 2017, Non-building Infrastructure, following two slightly down years, will increase by 4.4% to $304 billion, due to growth in the highway and transportation markets.
  • Headlines point to a 6% decline in new infrastructure starts in 2017
  • Starting backlog for 2017 increased 6% over 2016.
  • The cash flow in 2017 from starting backlog will be up 10%.

Infrastructure currently has the highest amount of work in backlog in history. Starting backlog accounts for 80% of all spending within the year. Even with an anticipated decline in new starts in 2017, starting backlog for 2018 will still be at another new high. Spending from starting backlog is predicted to reach record levels in both 2017 and 2018.

  • Total Construction spending for 2017 is more than $1.200 trillion.
  • Infrastructure, public and private, is $300 billion, only 25% of total construction spending.
  • Public is only 60% of all infrastructure, $180 billion, so 15% of total construction.
  • Public Nonresidential Institutional Buildings referred to as infrastructure (Educ, HlthCr, Safety) adds another $95 billion, 8% of total construction.

The two largest markets contributing to public spending are highway/bridge (32%) and educational (25%), together accounting for 57% of all public spending. The next largest market, transportation, is only about 10% of public spending.

  • Total Construction spending average constant $ growth post-recession is $50 billion/year. It exceeded $75 billion/year only once.
  • Infrastructure, only 25% of total construction spending, increased by more than $25 billion in a single year only once. The average annual growth for the past 20 years (excluding recession yrs) is less than $10 billion/year.
  • Public Infrastructure annual growth averages only $6 billion/year, has never exceeded $16 billion in a single year.
  • Public Institutional Buildings annual growth averages only $6 billion/year, has never reached $20 billion.

Current backlog already accounts for 80% of all spending. Current spending growth from backlog (Public infrastructure + Institutional) is predicted to add $20 billion/year in work over the next two years. This will absorb some current jobs and create 100,000 to 150,000 new heavy engineering and nonresidential jobs.

For every $10 billion a year in added infrastructure spending, that also means adding about 40,000 new construction jobs per year.

Any infrastructure plan added, for the most part, needs to be considered as added on top of the current spending plan, $20bil/yr next two yrs, already at all time highs.

  • Average growth in total construction jobs is about 270,000 jobs per year. The largest growth was 400,000 in 1999.
  • Average post-recession growth in public infrastructure + institutional jobs is about 35,000 jobs per year. The best growth was 50,000 jobs/year.

Current data predicts public institutional and infrastructure spending and jobs growth, already above the long term average, is expected to increase by $20 billion/year for the next several years.

Spend Public Only 2015-2019 3-23-17

Adding $20 billion/year more in spending for an infrastructure expansion plan would push total public work to double record levels. It’s doable, but would be difficult to achieve and is probably not sustainable at that rate. 

One limiting factor will be jobs growth. Also, the supply chain may not have the capacity to increase so rapidly, especially to think the industry could continue to expand at a historical rate of growth for years to come. In years past, expansion like this has led to rampant inflation within the industry.

Adding $100 billion in a single year to public infrastructure and institutional work is unrealistic. That is greater than the maximum level of growth for the entire construction industry. The portion of the industry we are dealing with here is less than 25% of the entire industry.

Adding $100 billion, a one third increase in annual spending for this sector, would require the distribution network surrounding the industry to expand equally as fast. It would need 300,000 to 400,000 new jobs filled in a year, in a sector that has at maximum grown 50,000 jobs in a year. That’s unrealistic.

The public infrastructure subset of the construction industry appears too small to accommodate an increase of $10 billion/year and 40,000 new jobs/year over current growth. When the potential projects pool is expanded to include public institutional buildings, that total pool may then accommodate an increase of $10 to $15 billion/year over normal growth.

Excessively rapid growth will only take volume and jobs away from normal growth, generally leads to rapid inflation and has a devastating effect when a massive program ends and all those jobs disappear.


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