Rail = Jobs

Hawai’i’s unemployment rate has been climbing since the summer and the threat of a double dip recession is looming on the horizon. At the same time, rail, the one large public project that promises to put people back to work, languishes. A relentless campaign of negative PR, lawsuits, and political static now threaten to stall Honolulu’s much needed and voter approved rail project. Recently, anti-rail activists have been targeting the projected number of jobs that will be created by the rail.

FACE participated in a nationwide study released this week, The Road To Good Jobs [pdf], which not only upholds job creation projections for the rail project, but also goes into great detail about why infrastructure jobs exactly like Hawaii’s rail project are so successful in creating good jobs. The study found that Hawai’i is ranked highest among all 50 states in the percentage of apprentices working on Department of Transportation projects.

We are in fact first in the nation for using transit as an avenue to get young men and women into careers in the Building Trades! Building Trades jobs are good jobs; they pay well, have benefits and include a ladder of advancement for ambitious and skilled workers. They are also the kind of jobs you can raise a family on. But they are also the kind of jobs that helps a person hold their head high in the company of others; there is a pride in construction, the pride that comes with building something that other people need and use.

Our whole country seems mired in a debate between investing in infrastructure and cutting the deficit. Locally that debate is playing out in the argument over rail. To FACE members, the debate is ahistorical. Large scale government projects are exactly what the state and the country need right now to shake off the recession. Investment in infrastructure leads to growth by attracting private capital, encouraging business expansion, and, yes, creating jobs. It is what got America out of the Great Depression and it is the only thing that looks very promising right now.

In Hawai’i, rail is the only project waiting in the wings large enough to have a significant impact on our rising unemployment numbers. So how about we take off the ideological blinders and pick up a hammer.

About the author: Drew Astolfi is the state director of Faith Action for Community Equity of Hawaii.

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