A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

LaHood Pads Job Losses


The transportation secretary overstated the number of construction jobs lost because Congress has failed to pass a federal aviation bill. Ray LaHood claimed that "as many as 70,000 construction workers across America are out of work," because of the congressional stalemate. That's the number of jobs a construction industry analysis said would be "affected" in some way. The industry study puts the number of construction workers who are actually "out of work" at 24,000.

LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, made the claim in his opening remarks at a White House press briefing July 28.

LaHood, July 28: Good morning. Since Congress failed to pass an FAA bill, nearly 4,000 FAA employees have been furloughed, and as many as 70,000 construction workers across America are out of work.

The lost jobs are due to a dispute between the House and Senate over a bill that would temporarily extend the Federal Aviation Administration's operational authority until a permanent FAA reauthorization bill can be approved. The stalemate forced a partial shutdown of the FAA on July 22, because the agency's ability to tax airline tickets has expired. Without its full funding, the FAA furloughed 4,000 of its employees and interrupted construction projects, although air traffic control continues at all the nation's airports.

LaHood urged a speedy resolution to the congressional dispute, saying later in his press briefing that now is "not the time to be laying off 70,000 construction workers."

LaHood's 70,000 figure comes from an analysis commissioned by the Associated General Contractors of America, but the secretary misrepresents the study's findings. According to an industry press release, the delay of construction projects will put approximately 24,000 construction employees out of work — not the 70,000 LaHood claimed.

AGC of America, July 27: According to an analysis conducted for the association by Professor Stephen Fuller of George Mason University, the halting of $2.5 billion in construction projects puts approximately 24,000 more construction workers out of work. Another 11,000 workers in related service and supply businesses are also affected. Additionally, as many as 35,000 jobs will be undermined in the broader economy, from the lunch wagon near the job site to the truck dealership across town.

So, the total number of "affected" workers is 70,000. But they are not, as LaHood claimed, all construction workers. Also the study did not say the other "affected" workers have lost their jobs. The truck dealership across town may lose business tangentially due to the partial FAA shutdown, but that doesn't mean they are "out of work" because of the delay. And the study doesn't make that claim, either.

One should also consider the source of LaHood's data. AGC of America is a trade association "dedicated to furthering the ever changing agenda of commercial construction contractors." We have no reason to believe this analysis is inaccurate, but a word of caution is in order.

For sure, the partial FAA shutdown has caused financial hardship for some construction workers, and we do not want to minimize its impact. But LaHood was incorrect about the scope of the construction jobs lost during this delay.

— Scott Blackburn