Womens’ groups derail infrastructure stimulus funding

Back when he was campaigning for the presidency, Barack Obama frequently mentioned the need to reinvest in our nation’s physical infrastructure.  After the election, as the recession began hitting the construction industry harder than most, his people seemed to indicated that a construction-focused stimulus bill would help alleviate both these problems. But one month into the new administration a stimulus bill as signed into law that dedicated less than one out of every seven of it’s dollars to construction infrastructure.

What happened?

According to this article by Christina Hoff Sommers in The Weekly Standard, a cabal of womens’ groups hit the White House with everything they had, lobbying for money for the “human” infrastructure of education, child and health care and social services over the traditionally male-dominated fields of construction and manufacturing. According to one of their spokes-people: “We don’t want this stimulus package to just create jobs for burly men.”

And, of course, Obama caved, despite the fact that these female-dominated fields had a net gain of 588,000 jobs since December 2007 while during the same period the male dominated fields of construction and manufacturing lost 3-million jobs. And their efforts paid well. The stimulus bill has created twice as many female-oriented jobs as it has male-oriented jobs, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we now have the biggest male-to-female jobless rate gap since it began tracking these numbers. Despite the money now coming to infrastructure projects, the jobless rate in the construction industry is pushing 20 percent–higher even than it was when the bill was signed. Unemployment among government workers, where most of these female-oriented occupations exist, is less than 4 percent.

This isn’t to demean the important jobs that (mainly) women do in our society. But this sorry tale raises two troubling questions. One: in any enterprise as large as the federal government, proportionality, fairness and balance are extremely important. Those standards were brazenly ignored in the stimulus bill, concluding Sommers to write:

“That an emergency economic recovery program should be designed with gender in mind is itself remarkable. That, in current circumstances, it should be designed to “skew” employment further towards women is disturbing and ominous. “

The second question is: where were the our construction associations during all of this; the AGC, ABC, ARTBA, NAPA, NAHB, NARI? While the women’s groups were storming the gates, orchestrating, in Sommer’s words: “a barrage of e-mails, op-eds, online petitions, open letters, faxes, phone calls, scripted handshakes and meetings” who was representing the construction industry?