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You may not be aware, but America shares a border with Mexico. And while your laughable geographical ignorance can be forgiven as an egregious lack of education, you’ve still probably heard about a certain wall that a certain political figure has insisted upon building.
So while we’ll refrain from commenting on the absurdity of the project, we do feel that it’s our duty to discuss what is one of its key components. And no, it’s not political posturing or pandering, but how many jobs we can expect to arise from building Trump’s border wall.
The recent approval of $1.6 billion to go towards the construction of the wall — that should be completed by 2020 — means the creation of jobs. And not just jobs focused on the actual construction of the wall, we expect a multitude of ancillary and support positions to open up.
Using government data and estimates from contractors, we’ve set out to determine exactly how many, and what type, of jobs the border wall will create if the funds are approved and construction of this first phase begins.
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Our focus in this study is on the first phase
Again, we’re going to maintain our neutrality. Our goal here isn’t to point and laugh at how clownish and replete with faults this project is, but to analyze job creation forecasts.
The project as it was initially described, 2,000 miles of imposing concrete, is almost certainly not going to happen — and the current funding still has to pass a hostile Senate, so we’ll keep the scope narrowed to jobs central to this initial phase.
To do this, we need to consider the types of jobs that such a massive undertaking actually creates. The request for proposals has narrowed down to around a dozen prospective bidders who are to begin constructing prototypes in a stretch of San Diego this winter.
Assuming that the prototypes are built, it will be for a first phase that accounts for 74 miles of the border — it’s these construction jobs and the resulting support jobs that we care about, as well as the resulting support jobs that will pop up as quickly as someone scaling a bollard wall.
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So how many construction jobs will it create?
Well, the answer, according to two experts is actually zero.
The timeline for the wall has it being finished in 2020, and with the prototypes’ construction being delayed until 2018, that means that it will have to be completed in less than three years.
That’s not enough time to train workers, so it won’t “create” jobs, as this project will require already-skilled laborers.
And at a time when general contractors everywhere are struggling to find skilled workers as it is, getting workers who are vetted for government projects at all will be a challenge. Enticing them to travel to challenging locations means paying them more than the average hourly construction wage — $28.42 per hour for skilled workers.
Unskilled workers and people fresh to the job market need not apply.
There’s no high-level construction firm interested in the project
In fact, only three of the top 20 ranked contractors as ranked by the Engineering News-Record’s most recent Top 400 Contractors list were listed as interested vendors on those RFPs.
The projects are simply too contentious for too little a payoff, with legislators in states like New York and California even going so far as to propose bills blacklisting companies that participate — and while they didn’t pass, they’re a solid indication of how public sentiment can work against the company with the dubious honor of building the wall.
So that leaves the smaller companies, whose limited resources will increase the difficulty completing a project of this scale, and who will also face challenges in bonding and hiring the workers to begin with.
And because this work is temporary, this short-term job will actually be pulling workers away from other areas — one might even say damaging local construction companies, and not creating additional, long-term construction jobs.
But here are the jobs we do believe it will create
Regardless of the border wall (or rather border fence) not creating construction jobs, a construction project of this scale, complexity, and notoriety will probably lead to the creation of certain other jobs — even if it’s not the ones expected or hoped for.
One of the requirements for companies submitting proposals addresses the subject of its controversy — includes a rather robust security package to contend with undesirable exposure from activists.
The winning bidders must submit a security plan with details including:
Are we talking about private military contractors (PMCs)? Private security companies like Academi (formerly Blackwater) charged about $1,200 a day during the height of the War in Iraq, with wages for the contractors coming in at about $600 a day.
Yeah, not exactly rentacops we’re talking about here. This is a high cost and a specialized group, but the terrain and exigence demands something special.
So, there are three individual projects: the fences near San Diego, the fences near the Rio Grande Valley, and the bollar walls at the Rio Grande Valley. We can assume that there will be multiple construction groups for each of those three projects, say four for each one for a total of twelve sites.
So for those twelve individual spots, let’s say that each construction group will require three shifts of a four-man team at all times, a backup quick response team, and a four-man medical group — that’s at least 240 specialized security contractors and medical personnel.
What about the construction site food trucks?
All of those construction workers and PMCs have to eat, and the proposed three-year timeline doesn’t give small boomtowns the time to get established, meaning that temporary camps are going to start popping up, like military FOBs/FOLs (forward operating base/location).
FOBs often have well over 1,000 civilians doing things like refueling, plumbing, maintenance, and providing food services — even now, CBP agents operate from the border in FOBs, going out on ranges and patrols.
And while there’s no way to project exactly what the demand is going to be in these areas, we do know that each of those twelve sites is going to need someone to feed the crews, so let’s say there are twelve people serving meals several times a day for a total of 144 on-site food providers.
And someone’s also got to feed all of those damn hippy activists
Let’s address why there are going to be so many security personnel and people responsible for feeding them (and the construction crews).
If the Standing Rock protests are any indicator of how many people will flock to protest the wall, and those people have to eat too. There were seven kitchens operating to support the pipeline protesters, so let’s say there are two groups feeding each site’s protesters.
And since they’re all undoubtedly going to be a bunch of grungy hipsters (not veterans), let’s call them food truck workers, so 96 people manning the protest food trucks.
And the inevitable avocado banditos
You know what those rambunctious protesters just can’t get enough of at those food trucks?
Demand for avocados has increased from 1 pound per capita in 1989 to a record 7 pounds per capita in 2014, a timeframe that more or less fits with a millennial’s maturation.
And you might not know this, but it’s not just illegal immigrants crossing our southern border: Mexico exported $21 billion of food and drink north of the border in 2015.
Part of the White House’s “buffet of options” for coercing the Mexican government to pay for the wall is putting a 20 percent “border adjustment tax” on Mexican exports to the US — which is bad news for the avocado toast lovers in the US.
Avo is a big business in the US these days. Imports contributed $2.2 billion to the US gross domestic product in 2015, $1.2 billion in labor income, $594 million in taxes and 19,000 jobs to American workers, according to a University of Texas study.
And Mexico alone accounted for 60% of the avocados in America in 2014. If the cost goes up 20 percent to match the tariff, then let’s say the market accounts for the cost — it might only be loosely following economic principles, but let’s reflexively say that we start getting 10 percent more of our crop from domestic farmers.
If the jobs increase to match, that means that the total number of jobs will go up 25 percent for an increase in avocado production jobs by 4,750
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And the legal sharks will smell blood in water
The wall isn’t just controversial in terms of ethics, it’s bound to cause a litigious uproar
From eminent domain to preeminently hilarious irony, there will be some good news for all of the current law students, who are most surely tired of hearing that there are more students in law school than there are law jobs.
So the Trump administration will be good for some attorneys’ careers, if not all.
Litigation over the impact of the border wall on the environment is not just virtually guaranteed, but in fact happening.
There’s already a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol by The Center for Biological Diversity, but the environmental, property, and immigration lawsuits are going to start flying.
These are high profile cases and not likely to result in the hiring of new lawyers for each — however, processing all of them may require new staff, so let’s say firms hire ten new employees, even if it’s just to handle the phones.
Only about a third of the property for the long-term proposed border wall is owned by the federal government, and property owners between the borders aren’t going to be happy.
The AP found that in Texas alone the US government spent about $15 million to get the 300 properties needed for the border wall, and we can expect claims of lost property value to surface and the eminent domain cases to start flying as it comes down the pipeline.
If this results in 100 such cases and firms bring on a new attorney for half of them, this is 50 new legal jobs.
After the not-so-great Great Recession, 2.3 million construction workers lost their jobs — many quit the field altogether.
And remember how we were saying that the construction companies and contractors are going to have a hard time finding laborers for the projects?
The labor shortage has indeed left the construction field bereft of skilled workers — but there is a supremely ironic solution.
A guest worker visa program or giving legal status to immigrants already in the country would help alleviate this problem, meaning that immigration attorneys in San Antonio might have to start processing more immigration visas just to find workers to help build the wall.
These are rather complicated cases, so let’s say that law firms hire 40 new workers to help bring in more skilled workers>So there will be a net job gain, right?
What we find is that even this phase of the wall’s construction is not just unlikely to build the massive wall of concrete that Trump envisioned — it’s also not likely to build much in the way of construction jobs.
Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive report. Our focus here was to highlight that it’s largely useless in terms of long-term economic job growth.
To quote a Time report:
Even the avocado jobs would be seasonal in both a literal and figurative sense, as the prices would eventually go down and unlike Mexico, the US can’t grow them year-round.
Another aspect of the proposed wall would be the installation of another 5,000 CBP agents, and the security sector rejoices at the opportunity to introduce new weapons and surveillance equipment to our borders.
So if you’re excited by an increase in law enforcement and defense contractors, then celebrate!
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