The Stimulus Bill And Construction
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
NPR: construction, energy, and one of the biggest, government services. We begin in Chicago with NPR's David Schaper.
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DAVID SCHAPER: People here in Chicago like to joke that we don't have four seasons, we really only have two - winter and construction. Well, the snow has melted, temperatures are finally warming but, you know, thousands of potholes remain. I'm watching a lot of cars and trucks slow down and change lanes to try to avoid the many potholes on this stretch of U.S. highway 41, also known as Lincoln Avenue on Chicago's far north side. You see the state of Illinois has lacked the funds to adequately maintain and resurface this stretch of highway. But that's about to change. Under the stimulus this and thousands of long overdue construction projects like it are about to get under way.
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MIKE STURINO: We anticipate we'll have a moderate construction season this year.
SCHAPER: That's Mike Sturino, president and CEO of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association. And while his tempered outlook of a moderate year may not sound great, consider that this is an industry decimated by the economic downturn. The unemployment rate in the construction industry nationwide - and we're talking about all kinds of construction, not just highways and bridges - is above 20 percent compared to 8.5 percent unemployment overall. The labor department says 1.3 million construction workers have lost their jobs in the last 15 months.
STEVEN SANDER: And I would hate to see what the construction industry would look like in this year and next year without the stimulus program.
SCHAPER: Steven Sander, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America says construction firms were projecting more layoffs this year and next had it not been for the stimulus. In many states the bidding process for construction projects has just begun. So while only a few contractors have started hiring workers to dig, flatten, pore, wire and build stimulus related projects Sander says things are looking up.
SANDER: We're looking at April as being kind of a bellwether month.
SCHAPER: And here's why.
SANDER: The weather is improving in the northern states. The funding for the stimulus projects should be going out in April at a quicker pace. And we're optimistic that we're going to see an uptick in construction employment this month.
SCHAPER: With private capital all but dried up, many contractors who normally only work on private construction projects are now bidding on the public sector jobs funded by the stimulus. On benefit of so many contractors seeking the work is that bids for stimulus construction projects are coming in below expectations, meaning there may be more money available to fund more projects later on. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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