New York’s prevailing wage law

A cost-benefit analysis

(A working paper from the Economic Policy Institute)

By Russell Ormiston, Dale Belman, and Matt Hinkel
November 1, 2017

The cost of state prevailing wage laws has been a considerable focus of independent, academic economists over the last 15 years. In study after study, the results demonstrate a clear consensus: state prevailing wage laws have not been shown to increase taxpayer costs on the biggest components of state construction budgets (roads and schools). If this seems counterintuitive, consider that high-wage contractors employ the most skilled and most productive workers and use the industry’s most advanced technology and equipment; this allows them to place bids on public construction projects that are competitive with-if not better than-those of low-wage, low-skill contractors. Essentially, state lawmakers “get what they pay for” when it comes to hiring contractors and workers to build public construction projects.

There is another fundamental problem with the current narrative on state prevailing wage laws: it entirely ignores the many benefits that the law provides a state’s residents and communities. In a time when economic opportunities for blue-collar workers are slipping away-devastating families and communities-prevailing wage laws are one of the few effective policies available to state lawmakers that increase the standard of living for these workers, incentivize employers to provide opportunities for training and skill development, and offer a clear pathway to the middle class for non-college educated state residents. Prevailing wage laws also advantage in-state and law-abiding contractors, reduce illegal employment practices, and improve workplace safety for a state’s residents. Any public discussion about state prevailing wage laws that ignores the benefits of the policy does an incredible disservice to a state’s workers, families, and communities.

(Read More)

(PDF Copy of Report)

Infrastructure, Jobs And Economic Growth

on August 21, 2017 at 10:00 AM

We’ve posted quite a bit recently about the need for streamlining the federal permitting process for energy infrastructure (see here and here). An API study earlier this year estimated investments in needed natural gas and oil infrastructure could total more than a trillion dollars and potentially generate more than 1 million jobs through 2035. That’s a lot of economic potential linked to infrastructure – and in that context, President Trump’s new executive order modernizing and bringing greater accountability to the federal permitting process certainly is welcome.

It coincides with release of a new study, for North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), detailing the jobs and economic impacts of energy infrastructure construction. NABTU President Sean McGarvey and API President and CEO Jack Gerard talked about the study and America’s energy infrastructure needs during a conference call with reporters.

The pipeline employment study estimated that $6 billion to $28 billion was spent annually o n new additions to and the reconstruction of existing pipelines from 2006 to 2016:


The study:

Industrial construction is an important source of jobs for the skilled construction trades. Individuals who engage in industrial construction have certifications, licensing, and training that provide guarantees that they are competent in difficult, specialized work. Pipeline workers are an important segment of this group. Pipelines are important to the efficient operation of the U.S. economy, and pipeline construction is an important source of family supporting jobs for construction workers.

McGarvey said the study’s findings are noteworthy they show support for the economy during a period that included a recession. Pipeline construction jobs bolster America’s middle class, he said. McGarvey:

“We’re talking about average weekly earnings of almost $1,200 a week, to keep folks squarely in the middle class. We look forward, based on this study, to show the real impact of this industry on maintaining that floor.”

(Read More)

Prevailing Wage Repeal Could COST Wisconsin Taxpayers Over $300 Million Per Year

Analysis of studies cited by advocates of prevailing wage repeal highlights massive social costs

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Madison: While critics of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law have long claimed that repeal would save money by cutting the wages of blue-collar construction workers, a Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) analysis of two reports frequently cited to support the claims of prevailing wage critics shows that repeal could actually cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $300 million each year.

For its study, MEPI examined how construction wage cuts would affect overall state tax revenues and reliance on five different government assistance programs utilizing the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance’s recent claim of a 44% cut, and a 2015 Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis that suggested repeal of prevailing would reduce wages by 14.1%.

“If an entire segment of Wisconsin’s blue-collar workforce faced a wage cut of 14% to 44%, it would mean thousands more Wisconsin workers would be on government assistance, and Wisconsin’s state government would have significantly less tax revenue to pay for these benefits,” said MEPI Policy Director Frank Manzo IV. “Using the wage cut figures promised by the law’s critics, we can assess that prevailing wage repeal would impose a potential social cost to Wisconsin taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars each year-without producing any real savings in total project costs.”

The current average wage for skilled construction workers, on which MEPI’s analysis is based, is $51,600 per year. The 44% wage cut claimed by the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance would reduce this average to less than $29,000 per year for those employed on public works projects. This would leave affected construction working families of four eligible for well-over $16,000 per year in government subsidized health, food and heating assistance, plus another $5,000 per year in Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC). The reduction in wages would also reduce their state and federal income tax payments by an average of $4,800 per year, for a potential annual social cost of more than $26,000. Similarly, a 14% wage cut would result in a potential social cost of over $17,000 per year for a family of four.

(Read More)

(Full PDF of Report)

Housing Affordability Prevailing Wage Standards Can Help Improve Housing Affordability


Alex Lantsberg, MCP, AICP

A brand new study by Smart Cities Prevail shows that linking prevailing wage standards with proposed reforms to streamline new housing development would close the affordability gap, save state and local governments tens of millions of dollars annually, and disproportionately benefit communities of color.

Overall, the study notes that it takes 13% more workers today to match the residential housing output that California enjoyed just twenty years ago. This steep decline in productivity has been matched by a 25% decline in inflation-adjusted blue-collar construction wages (the median wage is just $35,000 per year) and housing prices that have soared as high as 54% in the Bay Area.

“A productivity renaissance will be necessary to produce housing units in the numbers that will noticeably shave what Californians pay for housing,” said study author Alex Lantsberg. “Studies have repeatedly shown that the best way to realize that goal is by incorporating prevailing wage standards.”

Prevailing wage is a minimum wage for blue-collar construction work that reflects local market rates for different skilled crafts. Long associated with stronger economic outcomes and more local hiring, most research shows that prevailing wages have no significant impact on total project costs because they promote higher skilled craftsmanship. This triggers increases in productivity and efficiency as high as 15%, reduced reliance on taxpayer funded public assistance programs, and prevents workforce shortages by helping to fund the apprenticeship programs that are used to meet California’s construction workforce training needs.

(Read More)

(Full PDF Copy of Study)

Proposed Prevailing Wage Changes Would Hurt the Ohio Economy

Midwest Economic Policy Institute – Blog

A new study finds that weakening or repealing Ohio’s prevailing wage standard is unlikely to save taxpayer dollars. In fact, a weaker policy would increase taxpayer burdens as construction worker incomes decrease and their reliance on public assistance increases. A weaker law would also mean fewer resources for apprenticeship training in this fast-growing sector, less work for Ohio businesses and Ohio workers, and negative overall impacts on the Ohio economy.

The study was conducted by researchers at Kent State University, Bowling Green State University, Colorado State University-Pueblo, and the Midwest Economic Policy Institute.

(Read More)

(Fact Sheet)

(See PDF Copy of Study)

Prevailing Wage Laws: What Do We Know?

Institute for Construction Economics Research (ICERES)

In recent years, states and municipalities have been increasingly engaged in heated, often partisan, debates over the future of prevailing wage laws. In addition to the repeal of state prevailing wage laws in West Virginia and Kentucky, there have been high-profile political challenges in several states including Wisconsin and Nevada. Numerous city councils and county commissioners have been concurrently engaged in similar debates regarding local prevailing wage ordinances. References to economic studies often accompany these calls for legislative action, as advocates on both sides of the debate can point to papers supporting their position. The lack of consensus among researchers, however, is mostly attributable to differences in empirical methodology and scientific rigor. To improve the clarity of future public policy debates on prevailing wage laws, this paper summarizes the current state of research on these policies, highlighting recent academic findings and identifying empirical shortcomings inherent in a number of oft-cited non-academic studies.

(See full PDF of Study here)

Weakening a prevailing wage law by raising coverage thresholds has negative impacts on local contractors, construction workers, and economies, according to a new study

(ILEPI Report) Prevailing Wage Thresholds Lower the Bar in Public Construction

Posted by Frank Manzo IV

The report, An Analysis of the Impact of Prevailing Wage Thresholds On Public Construction: Implications for Illinois, was conducted jointly by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

It is the first study to focus specifically on prevailing wage thresholds.

A prevailing wage threshold is the minimum cost of a public project at which point workers must be paid prevailing wage rates. Publicly-funded projects below the threshold are exempt from the law, while those above are covered. Contract thresholds vary by state, from those with no threshold (such as Illinois) up to $500,000 in Maryland.

Although the study forecasts effects on Illinois if the state were to introduce a prevailing wage threshold, the report is applicable to any state that is considering raising a contract threshold.

(Read More)

(PDF of Study)

New Study: Prevailing Wage Law Would Boost New Hampshire Jobs, the State Economy, and In-State Contractors

January 14, 2016
A new study released today by leading national researchers on the construction industry finds that a proposed New Hampshire prevailing wage law would boost the state economy by at least $300 million, create several thousand jobs, and increase state and local tax revenue by up to $17 million.

The report, published by the Keystone Research Center (KRC), an independent non-partisan economic policy group, was released in advance of hearings in Concord next week on the proposed prevailing wage law. New Hampshire is the only state in New England and the Northeast that does not have such a law.

The study uses a growing body of peer reviewed research, data from the Economic Census of Construction, and industry-standard IMPLAN software to analyze the impact of prevailing wage standards for skilled construction industry trades on the New Hampshire economy as a whole and on construction workers’ wages, benefits and reliance on taxpayer-funded public benefit programs.

(PDF of Press Release)

(PDF Copy of Full Study)

Study shows wage theft rampant in construction industry

By Katie Johnston GLOBE STAFF MAY 12, 2015

For more than three years, workers doing asbestos removal and demolition jobs for several Woburn companies were paid in cash, resulting in more than $700,000 in unreported wages, federal prosecutors charged in an indictment last week.

Meanwhile, construction workers around the state – particularly immigrants hired by subcontractors – say they sometimes go for weeks without pay. When they do get paid, it can be less than promised, and overtime pay is virtually nonexistent.

Many of them are hired as independent contractors, without the job protections or tax deductions of a traditional employment relationship.

The practice, known as wage theft, “has reached epidemic levels” in Massachusetts, namely in the booming residential construction industry, according to research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In the past 18 months, the state attorney general’s office has issued more wage violation citations against employers in the construction industry than in any other sector – 253 citations in all, resulting in more than $1.6 million being recovered in penalties and unpaid wages. The attorney general’s office said cracking down on wage theft continues to be a priority.


Productive, High-Skilled, and Well-Paid

March 1, 2015

Road and Bridge Construction Workers in the Midwest was co-authored by Frank Manzo, Policy Director of the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, and Professor Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations.  It  looks at the economic and construction-related benefits of skilled workers in the Great Lakes region, which the study defined as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Executive Summary

Construction workers who specialize in road and bridge infrastructure projects are productive, high-skilled, and well-paid in America’s “Great Lakes” region- which comprises Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Key findings from this report include:

  • Employment in construction jobs is expected to increase by 21.4 percent over the next decade, the second-fastest growing occupation. The majority of these new employment opportunities will require the completion of a three- to five-year apprenticeship program.
  • In 2013, three out of every five new construction jobs in the Great Lakes region were filled by a candidate with an associate’s or apprenticeship degree.
  •  Road and bridge construction workers each produce an average of $155,100 in economic value for the Great Lakes region, second only to their counterparts in the Far West states ($162,461 per worker). Wisconsin’s street, highway, and bridge construction workers were the most productive in the Great Lakes region, annually contributing an average of $184,592 to the economy.
  •  Construction workers in the Great Lakes region build highways in a cost-effective manner, constructing each lane-mile up to 43 percent cheaper than the national average.
  • The apprenticeship share- the ratio of active apprentices to total workers in construction occupations- is higher in states with a prevailing wage law (7.7 percent) than in states without a prevailing wage law (5.4 percent). Additionally, 10 percentage-point increase in a state’s construction industry unionization rate is associated with a 3.2 percentage-point average increase in its apprenticeship share.

Construction workers across the Great Lakes region are well-compensated and can support a middle-class family. Road and bridge construction workers receive significant training in the Great Lakes states and, in turn, translate their increased human capital into higher levels of productivity for employers. Unfortunately, there are threats across the Midwest to weaken the institutions that are statistically correlated with increased worker efficiency, including prevailing wage laws and trades unions. If the Great Lakes region is to remain one of the nation’s leaders in worker productivity on public construction projects, these institutions must be both defended and strengthened.

(Read More)