What the Infrastructure Bill Means for Your Family Budget
One major item that's plagued the presidential to-do list for many administrations is fixing our infrastructure: American roads, pipes, airports, and railroads are in an abysmal state. Actually, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the various systems that keep the country afloat a generous C- on its most recent report card, a score the Society defines as "mediocre, requir[ing] attention."
That's a national score, though; specific states differ. Idaho's civil engineers gave the state a C-, for example, while Michigan scored a D+ ("poor, at risk") overall. None of these are stellar grades, to be sure, and the specifics outlined in the ASCE report are pretty grim—ranging from the number of "deficient high-hazard potential dams" in the U.S. (which is now higher than 2,300) to the gallons of treated drinking water lost each day in this nation due to water main breaks (that's six billion gallons, with a breakage occurring every two minutes).
Which is why the $1.2 trillion that the Biden administration is about to put into the bridges, roadways, and broadband internet that define our lives is so crucial. Unfortunately, that kind of amount is also hard to grasp, especially when it comes to everyday impact.
How will fixing the treatment of hazardous waste or hoisting up a crumbling bridge actually change our day-to-day lives? Let's take a look at some of the flagship plans and how they'll make a difference in the lives of Americans across the country.
Airports and Seaports and Public Transit, Oh My!
($25, $17, and $89 billion each)
According to the Biden administration, the "American public transit infrastructure is inadequate" and demands immediate attention. The administration aims for this investment in public transit and ports to address three problems in one fell swoop: providing convenient transit options for working-class communities, limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and taking on inflation caused by slow or cumbersome ports.
Basically, the idea is that by adding "24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations, and thousands of miles of track, [and] signals" to transit systems nationwide, we can provide a reliable and smoothly run service that people can use in place of private vehicles. That, in turn, leads to less GHG emissions, which combats climate change.
The airport and seaport parts of the investment are key when it comes to jobs—and, yes, addressing supply-chain issues that cause inflation. The ASCE described 37% of the nations seaports as "poor," and outlines why the number of delayed or cancelled flights was on the rise—even in the pre-COVID age.
What does this mean for your family budget?
More reliable transit systems means easier (and potentially less expensive) commutes. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Americans took public transport 9.9 billion times in 2019, and 93% of their fare went to train, bus, or track maintenance. In addition, the APTA states that a whopping 45% of Americans have no access to public transport at all. This historic investment will relieve that fare pressure on households and provide more access to transit across the nation, equalling more dollars left in your pocket instead of in the coffers of the local transit authority.
Investing in sea and airports will, purportedly, lower inflation, which has been on the rise in past months. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the price of food items, for example, rose 5.4% in the past year. The price of energy went up 30% in the same 12 months. Of course, inflation is impacted by numerous criteria, and fixing up our seaports won't fix it all at once. That said, if it can lower the cost of basic household necessities by even a few percentage points, we're sure to feel that in our bank accounts.
Broadband Internet Across the Board
The Internet has, indisputably, become an integral part of nearly every American's life. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that, as of April 2021, 93% of American adults were using it on a regular basis for everything from filing government forms to applying for jobs, even though many lack an at-home broadband internet connection; the same Pew Center report shows that 30% of Americans aged 18-29 have no at-home access to high speed internet. The bipartisan infrastructure bill is finally treating the world wide web with the importance it deserves by investing such a massive sum in making high-speed internet readily available to all.
That said, the bill has a few interesting twists when it comes to the internet portion of things. First of all, the plan depends on states' cooperation pretty heavily. The bulk of the money ($42 billion) is going towards beefing up access to high-speed internet in underserved (or unserved) areas, but states have to apply for grants in order to attain those funds. Plus, as part of the grant requirements, states have to put up a sizable sum themselves—fully 25% of the grant funding that they receive.
The bill also stipulates that internet providers must provide a "low-cost" option, which sounds great, except that it doesn't define what low-cost means, leaving that up to each individual state. According to the media and research firm e.Republic, grants are only likely to be submitted in 2022, which means that we won't feel the impact of these new networks for a while yet.
Another important distinction to note is that, while the bill extends the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, it also lowers the sum that eligible applicants can receive from $50 to $30 per month.
What does this mean for your family budget?
In the short term, not much. Actually, if you're receiving emergency benefits, you might feel the sting of the lowered subsidy more than you'll enjoy the new networks—at least at first. In the long term, though, this means a great deal to family budgets: If everything goes to plan, households around the United States will soon be paying a lot less for more reliable and faster internet.
This means we'll have access to jobs with better terms (such as those that allow an employee to work from home, a much-pursued perk, especially for working parents), to telehealth appointments, and to government support (such as applying for SNAP benefits or unemployment). Plus, less time spent fighting traffic means more time spent with family and less money spent on fuel. Basically, we need to wait this one out a bit, but it looks like it will be worth it.
Rebuilding Roadways & Preparing for Climate Change
($110 and $50 billion each)
The ASCE gave American roadways a solid D on the infrastructure report card, and it's no wonder why. The organization's research shows that 40% of roads and bridges are in poor or mediocre condition, and that American motorists pay, on average, an extra $1,000 per year in wasted time and fuel. In addition to costing money in fuel and time, hazardous roads and bridges take a heavy toll on human lives as well: The National Safety Council (NSC) reported that 42,060 people died in 2020 in motor vehicle crashes, up 8% from 2019. In 2021, the preliminary data show that the number is yet higher.
In addition to these existing issues, severe weather patterns (wildfires, hurricanes, fearsome winter storms, and the like) are affecting bridges and roads as well. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports longer heat waves, more extreme seasonal temperatures, and more precipitation levels, none of which come as much of a surprise in light of the ongoing climate crisis.
A recent report by the Department of Transportation shows that, of the nearly 620,000 bridges in the U.S. (and its territories) 43,586 are in poor condition (that's about 7%), while nearly half (297,908) are in only fair condition. Meanwhile, the ASCE estimates that "rising temperatures [will] add approximately $19 billion to pavement costs each year by 2040." In other words, our highways and bridges need attention right away.
What does this mean for your family budget?
The first and clearest way in which American households will feel this showing up in their budgets is gas and time savings. An extra $1,000 dollars a year in your pocket can go a long way, and considering the way in which fuel prices have been skyrocketing (gas prices are up over $1 per gallon on average since last year, according to the Energy Information Administration), savings might be even higher.
That's not all, though: Anyone who has ever blown out a tire on an interstate highway knows that wear and tear on vehicles that drive on treacherous roads can be costly, too. The ASCE estimates that American motorists spend a collective extra $130 billion on vehicle repair and upkeep due to inadequate roads. Considering that there are about 229 million motorists in the United States (or there were in 2019, according to Statista), that's another $570 or so of savings for each driver on the road.
Extra fuel and time on the road are, of course, no favor to the climate crisis either, which comes with its own set of costs. The Biden administration reports that climate-related losses to the economy came with a "cumulative price tag of nearly $100 billion." Reinvesting those billions of dollars back into communities will undoubtedly affect our everyday lives.
Turning Hazardous Waste Into Hazardous What?
There's a lot of contaminated land in the United States: abandoned mines, accidental spill sites, weapons production plants, and more account for just some of the categories that the EPA and its partners monitor and manage. Unfortunately, the EPA reports that "no single comprehensive data source tracks the full extent of contaminated land in the United States," so we can't know just how much cleaning up there is to be done.
What we do know is that the EPA has estimated that "roughly 61% of the U.S. population, including 62% of all children in the U.S. under the age of five" live within three miles of a contaminated site. Moreover, the ASCE states that "60% of all non-federal [cleanup] sites are located in areas that may be impacted by flooding, storm surge, wildfires, or sea level rise related to climate change effects."
The new infrastructure bill is putting $21 billion dollars towards "clean[ing] up Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaim[ing] abandoned mine land and cap[ping] orphaned oil and gas wells," among other related goals. Considering how many of our kids (not to mention us parents!) are living near these hazardous locales, it's hard to argue with how important that is. But how will it impact a household's bottom line?
What does this mean for your family budget?
This one is a little more abstract, but still has a colossal influence on families. First, it's crucial to understand the health-related consequences of so much dangerous poison seeping into our groundwater and soil. A recent study conducted by Heather Klemick, Henry Mason, and Karen Sullivan and published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management showed that blood lead levels in children who live near Superfund cleanup sites could be lowered by 13-26% with proper treatment of waste.
Lead is an extremely dangerous substance when left unchecked, and can cause a host of problems, from lowered IQ to seizure disorders. Even though lead paint has been banned since 1978, there are still hundreds of thousands of affected children across the nation. As a matter of fact, the national organization Value of Lead Prevention has crafted a tool that allows individuals to view the cost (both human and financial) of lead in their communities. In Texas, for example, the organization estimates that 29,770 children will be exposed to lead in a detrimental way.
This is expected to cost households $4.8 billion in "productivity loss, health, special education needs," and more. It will cost the state government another $850 million tax dollars that could otherwise be spent elsewhere. In short, the impact felt will differ on a family-by-family basis, depending on your location and the nature of the hazardous substance in a specific area. Radioactive refuse, oil spills, or biological waste will have a different impact, of course, but living in a cleaner landscape will be both cheaper and healthier for families nationwide.
Turning Infrastructure Into Cash
Beyond these massive projects that are projected to save Americans money, the fact that so many federal dollars are flowing into this sector also provides plenty of opportunities to earn a little. Specifically, by being smart about investments, the infrastructure could boost many Americans' ability to pay down debts, save for retirement, and more.
"As far as the infrastructure [plan], the whole broadband, supply materials, industrials, build[ing] bridges, construction plays creates enormous opportunities," says Clark Kendall, president and founder of Kendall Capital Management, a firm that manages investments for "middle-class millionaires."
Kendall shares his hope that investors would treat this new influx of federal cash into specific sectors as an opportunity to make the market work for them and save for the future. Seeing as, according to The Center for Retirement Research, the median 401(k)/IRA balance held by Americans aged 55-64 was $120,000 in 2019, that's probably a good idea. Research by SmartAsset further shows that about 25% of U.S. citizens don't have any retirement savings at all, and of those who do have some money put away, almost half aren't saving it in a retirement account.
"Infrastructure plays create great, great opportunities," Kendall says, offering United Rentals, BorgWarner, and Delphi as examples of companies to watch during this time. "But I do think you do need to have prudence, as far as the investment management [side] of it. You know, back in the '90s, everyone was all excited about texting, and Blackberries' [valuations] went through the roof. Well, we're still texting, but not through Blackberries."
Kendall recommends investing in the companies that underpin the exciting technological advances—not necessarily in Tesla, but in the companies that provide engines and parts for Tesla. "I think now is the time to be [investing in], quite frankly, the less sexy names—especially if you're concerned about inflation," he explains.
"Hopefully, people will use this opportunity to take advantage of retirement accounts, whether it's 401(k)s, IRAs, 403(b)s, or TSPs," Kendall adds. "It gives them that [chance] to have additional free cash to prudently save in the marketplace [and] to build a financial house."
The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a tome, filled with endless details and specifics. After all, $1.2 trillion is a lot of money and needs to be allocated with care. Still, when all's said and done, what matters is how this beast of a law will change each of our lives—and if everything goes as it should, we'll be seeing that change soon enough in the form of a little more money, a lot more health, and a cleaner country to raise our children in.