California is expected to receive more than $40 billion in federal infrastructure funds over the next eight years—a higher amount than any other state, though relatively less than most other states on a per capita basis. The money can help repair and rebuild roads, ports, airports and bridges; boost public transportation and create a network of electric vehicle chargers; upgrade water infrastructure; expand high-speed internet; protect against climate change; and more. This investment is likely to spur economic activity across the state; it will also create new jobs in sectors that build and maintain the state’s infrastructure. Some of these jobs could promote economic mobility among workers with lower levels of education.
California’s infrastructure workers comprise 9.2% of the state’s workforce. By our estimates, these workers are especially likely to have less than a bachelor’s degree: as of 2019, 46.6% had a high school diploma or less, compared to 30.3% of non-infrastructure workers. They are also more likely to be Latino or Black than are other full-time workers across the state.
Overall, infrastructure workers are more likely to be working full time than other workers in California (61% compared to 43%). This is good news, especially for workers with lower levels of education: 61% of infrastructure workers without high school diplomas work full time, compared to 36% of those in other kinds of jobs. But infrastructure jobs vary widely—from the skills demanded to the earnings offered. Transportation and material-moving workers (such as stockers and hand freight movers) make up about half of the infrastructure workforce under our definition—and the vast majority have no more than a high school diploma. Many of these jobs are not well paid, but the other half of infrastructure jobs offer higher earnings to workers with and without four-year degrees. Fields such as construction, installation, maintenance, and repair, and architecture and engineering typically pay about double the wages offered by material-moving occupations to workers with the same amount of formal education. This is probably partly due to the training and skill needed for many of these occupations.
While it’s not yet clear how many or what types of infrastructure jobs will be created as a result of the infrastructure bill, community colleges can play a key role in building skills for many of the higher-paying jobs. For example, career education programs at the community colleges train engineering technicians, aircraft and diesel truck mechanics, electricians, and utility-line installers and repairers. And our research has identified sizable earnings growth associated with community college programs aligned with infrastructure jobs. Earning a credential from many of these programs can raise a worker’s earnings to a regionally adjusted middle-income range.
However, in our recent report we found relatively low completion rates for many career education programs and sizable disparities for Black and Latino students that could exacerbate existing gaps in access to higher-paying infrastructure jobs. We also highlighted insights from workforce stakeholders on how to help students achieve their career goals, including completing programs like those aligned with infrastructure job opportunities.
As state policymakers determine how best to use federal infrastructure funding, it will be important to consider how this funding can help connect Californians with training opportunities and jobs. This could promote economic mobility, and well-being, now and for future generations.