Infrastructure Study Finds Less Industry Wage Inequality

Wage inequality is less pronounced when it comes to U.S. truck drivers and hazardous waste removers, according to a new Brookings Institution analysis of infrastructure jobs.

Pay for workers at the top 90th percentile of transportation, trade, energy, water, telecommunications and public works fields was 2.5 times greater than it was for employees in the bottom 10 percentile in 2012, based on the report. That compared to a 4.8 ratio for all U.S. occupations.

“Workers, particularly at lower income levels, earn almost 30 percent more compared to workers across all other occupations,” said Joseph Kane, a researcher at Brookings and one of the report’s authors. “Many workers happen to be unionized, which could have an impact on entry-level wages in particular.”

Workers in the infrastructure fields also earned less than the average wage -- about $40,970 annually compared with $45,790 for all occupations, Kane and co-author Robert Puentes found.

The jobs require less education, on average. About 57 percent of infrastructure workers have a high school education or less, compared with 34 percent of workers employed in all occupations nationally. College degrees tend to boost earnings, so the lower education levels could have contributed to the narrower income gap within the infrastructure fields.

Education Influence

Those with college degrees make $20,050, or 61 percent, more per year than high school graduates on average, based on a San Francisco Federal Reserve analysis of 2011 data. Kane said further analysis is needed to determine how much education contributes to more wage equality in infrastructure occupations.

Infrastructure counted for 1 in 10 U.S. jobs, and employment in the fields will grow at a 9.1 percent pace over the next decade, the report also found. While less than the 10.8 percent growth projected for all occupations, the jobs in the infrastructure field face a wave of retirements.

“Nearly a quarter of our infrastructure workforce, or about 2.7 million workers, are going to need to be replaced over the next decade,” Kane said. “That’s a huge hole to fill, when you think of it, and you have to think about: What kind of jobs are going to be growing?”

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