How a ‘million’ jobs became “thousands and thousands’
December 23, 2011
• High-Speed Rail Authority clarifies job estimates
• Newspaper adds up the numbers
So how many jobs will be generated if the nearly $99 billion California High-Speed Rail Authority is ever built?
State and federal boosters have claimed 1 million jobs would result.
But a newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, cranked up its calculator and says the railroad “would create 20,000 to 60,000 jobs during an average year.”
The Mercury News says if the rail system is finished, it would generate only “a few thousand” permanent jobs.
The newspaper story has been followed by a statement from Mike Rossi, a High-Speed Rail Authority Board member appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as the state’s Senior Advisor for Jobs and Business Development.
“The construction of a high-speed rail system will create thousands and thousands of well-paying jobs for Californians,” says Mr. Rossi in the statement, “but it is important to emphasize that the case for high-speed rail does not revolve around jobs.”
The Rail Authority has said it needs to lay track swiftly because of the state’s projected population growth and the expense of building more freeway lanes and more capacity at airports.
"The case for high-speed rail is in the numbers. High-speed rail is lower-cost than the alternatives, creates a revenue stream that pays for its operation, maintenance and future capital needs and can contribute to its own construction,” Mr. Rossi says. "State leaders should be open to whatever alternative can best solve the long-term mobility problem, but I do not see a better financial or environmental alternative.”
According to the Mercury News, the 1 million jobs figure resulted from counting every year of work on building the rail system as a “job.”
The newspaper says the math worked this way: If one worker were to be employed on the project for the estimated 22 years of building the system, that person, who could have had one job for that time, would be counted as 22 jobs.
The 1 million total also includes spin-off jobs, such as positions added because those working on the railroad would need to eat, have a place to sleep if away from home, and buy stuff. And all that would result in two jobs added for every railroad worker job, according to the calculations. Times 22, of course.
The Rail Authority says it wasn’t trying to fudge the numbers. “Consistent with analysis for capital projects used by transportation agencies throughout the country, the employment impacts of construction are expressed in terms of ‘job years,’” it says.
“In some cases, discussion of construction employment has been shorthanded to refer simply to “jobs”, which is an imprecise and potentially confusing description,” it says.
Comments on this story
Willie Green 12/23/11 8:49 AM
It is silly to attempt to forecast the number of direct construction jobs or "spinoff" jobs that will be created by this project over the next 22 years. Although those jobs will be very real, nobody has a crystal ball that clear and accurate to forecast that far into the future.
It should be sufficient to say that there will be "many" construction jobs created along with "many more" jobs in the construction equipment/materials supply chain, not to mention the indirect service jobs that will be sustained when these employed construction workers spend their disposable income at local retailers, restaurants, car dealers, real estate agencies, etc. etc. etc. The "ripple effect" through the economy is very real, even though it can't be calculated accurately.
But the more important "jobs" figure is the number of permanent jobs it will support after construction is complete. And the answer to that is literally everybody who lives and works in the state of California.
The market demand for intercity HSR service is driven by diminishing supplies of easily extractable fossil fuel. As the global price of oil continues to relentlessly increase, automotive and inefficient short-hop airline travel will become less and less affordable than what we've enjoyed for the last 45~55 years.
Efficient regional passenger rail service is a necessity to remain economically competitive in the 21st Century Global Economy.
This is an economic trend that cannot be averted by partisan economic rhetoric or demagoguery.
Californians need to tighten their belts and end their wasteful addiction to oil fueled transportation.
Cut through the red tape and build the passenger train. Your future depends on it.