Roadmap to Equity: Ensuring Federal Infrastructure Investments Create Good Jobs for Women & People of Color

By Sapna Mehta

1. Executive Summary

In 2021 and 2022, President Biden signed three critical bills into law—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act (CHIPS and Science Act). They provide nearly $2 trillion in federal infrastructure, clean energy, and technology funding with the potential to create millions of good jobs in local communities. Together they have the potential to revitalize the U.S. labor market and pave the way toward diversifying a range of occupations and industries. These laws stand to modernize and enhance the transportation, energy, clean water, and digital sectors by directing significant funds toward these efforts.

These laws stand to modernize and enhance the transportation, energy, clean water, and digital sectors by directing significant funds toward these efforts.

  • IIJA alone invests a historic $1.2 trillion over 10 years in rebuilding crumbling roads, bridges, and public transportation systems. It also supports advanced energy technologies, environmental remediation and resilience, and clean water infrastructure; closes the digital divide; and modernizes the electric grid.
  • IRA allocates $369 billion over 10 years for clean energy production, climate solutions, and environmental justice.
  • The CHIPS and Science Act authorizes $52.7 billion over 10 years to encourage the construction of semiconductor manufacturing facilities, boosting the nation’s science and technology base and bolstering national and economic security.

These measures hold promise to increase economic opportunity and security for workers with low incomes, people of color, and women. Yet jobs in many of the industries experiencing investment are disproportionately held by white men. Turning these investments into high-quality jobs for women, people of color, and persons with low incomes will require intentional efforts to address their severe underrepresentation in the industries where federal investments are flowing.

In this report, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) aims to support national, state, and community leaders and advocates in navigating these laws by:

  • Providing a high-level overview of the IIJA, IRA, and CHIPS and Science Act;
  • Identifying the workforce and supportive service funding opportunities within the infrastructure laws;
  • Highlighting initiatives that can promote equity in infrastructure jobs; and
  • Recommending a preliminary set of action steps for local and state advocates that can help ensure infrastructure jobs benefit women and people of color.

To make certain that women and people of color can access and remain in the jobs being created through these new public investments, advocates can look to existing successes in advancing workforce training, including registered apprenticeship programs and sector-based strategies discussed later in this report. They can also work with the public and private sectors to develop Project Labor Agreements and Community Benefits Agreements on new projects to create equitable training pipelines for local workers, ensure the jobs created pay family-sustaining wages, and include robust labor protections.

Producing equitable outcomes will require elected leaders, advocates, workforce practitioners, and the private sector to work closely together to ensure equitable, effective, and responsive workforce development programs and pipelines to recruit, train, hire, and retain women and people of color. This includes creating access to supportive services, like funding for tools, child care, and transportation, all of which are necessary for successful job training completion and retention.

Throughout this report, CLASP spotlights state and local policy and program examples. The report also shares guidance from the federal government and resources from partners. Appendices at the end offer links to additional federal and partner resources.

2. Introduction

Over the next decade, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act (CHIPS and Science Act) aim to invest nearly $2 trillion to repair, rebuild, and modernize the nation’s infrastructure along with its energy and technology production capabilities. These investments hold promise to increase economic opportunity and security for workers with low incomes, people of color, and women.

Yet jobs in these industries are disproportionately held by white men. While women hold 11 percent of jobs in the construction industry, they are most frequently found in administrative roles, which make up a small percentage of overall jobs in the industry. [1] The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women hold just 4 percent of the jobs in construction trades—jobs like carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, and painters. [2]

The construction industry remains predominantly white, [3] and racial and gender disparities compound inequities for Black, Latina, and Afro-Latina women. Women who hold these jobs face rampant workplace harassment. Nearly a quarter of women who work in the construction trades report frequent sexual harassment. Additionally, 21 percent of women of color report they frequently face racial harassment. [4]

Without deliberate efforts, these inequities will persist. The National Partnership for Women and Families estimates that, if nothing changes, women will access only 29 percent of new jobs created by IIJA. Racial disparities are even more stark, with data projecting that:

  • Black women will access less than 4 percent of jobs;
  • Latinas will access less than 5 percent of jobs; and
  • Asian and Pacific Islander women will access less than 2 percent of jobs. [5]

At the same time, without thoughtful planning now, states, localities, and private companies may begin new projects only to discover they can’t find workers with the training needed to fill the new jobs. McKinsey & Company estimates that without additional investment in worker education and training, companies across industries will face a shortfall of 300,000 engineers and 90,000 technicians by the end of the decade. [6] The public and private sectors can collaborate with the workforce system, labor unions, and worker organizations to cultivate the workforce needed to make the United States more competitive and resilient and meet national security goals.

Attaining this workforce is possible through the development of robust, equitable, and accessible training, hiring, and retention pipelines. The IIJA, IRA and CHIPS and Science Act, collectively referred to in this paper as “the infrastructure laws,” incentivize the development of training plans and encourage partnerships among local and state governments, employers, labor unions, community groups, and workforce training providers like community colleges. Successful implementation of the infrastructure laws will require strategic coordination and alignment across these entities.

Advocacy is crucial to promoting equity and progress and to reversing years of systemic misogyny and racism in many of the industries receiving federal investment, the labor market, and beyond. Only when local and state advocates, community groups, worker centers, and labor unions engage local and state governments, workforce entities, and employers will the nation ensure that women and people of color access the new jobs created through investments from the IIJA, IRA and CHIPS and Science Act.

3. Overview of Recent Federal Legislation

The IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), authorizes $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years to rebuild roads, bridges, and public transportation systems; support advanced energy technologies and clean water infrastructure; close the digital divide; and modernize the electric grid. [7] The law is estimated to create more than 700,000 jobs per year over the next 10 years. [8]

Provisions in the legislation, punctuated with additional White House guidance, enable federal agencies to implement IIJA by supporting—and often preferencing—good quality jobs with labor protections and equitable workforce training. A number of programs also have set asides for disadvantaged communities, which are discussed later in this paper.

Most construction projects are subject to wage standards under two federal laws known as the Davis-Bacon Act [9] and the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts. [10] Together, these laws require all federal and federally assisted construction projects to pay workers the prevailing wage. The Wage and Hour Division of U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) conducts surveys of local labor markets to determine prevailing wage rates. These rates are typically set to reflect the market wage for a given type of work in a given area. The prevailing wage rate reflects both the hourly wage rate and fringe benefits. It establishes a wage floor, meaning that all contractors on a project must pay at or above this rate. [11]

IIJA funds will flow through eight federal agencies largely to states, tribes, and municipalities. They will also go to
nonprofits, labor organizations, community colleges, institutions of higher education, other nonprofit training and
educational institutions, public works departments, and private for-profit companies. Federal agencies will make
these funds available through grants, loans, loan guarantees, cooperative agreements,* and tax incentives.

*Cooperative agreements facilitate the transfer of something of value from federal executive agencies to states, local governments, and private recipients for a public benefit. While similar to grants, they include substantial involvement between the federal awarding agency and the recipient.

>>View the full report

Note: This publication was updated on December 18, 2023.