“Vets Hardest Hit” Prevailing Wage Myth Goes Multi-State

It has been nearly a year since Huffington Post ran a piece arguing that the repeal of of prevailing wage laws would disproportionately harm veterans. Media Trackers deconstructed the argument and revealed the myth in the argument in October, 2016. After failing to stop a partial repeal of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law last session, union backed forces have now embraced the “veterans hardest hit” meme to stop a total repeal from happening this session. This includes using a new study with the same debunked arguments as the study featured in the Huffington Post piece last year. As Media Trackers reported last week, those behind this effort carpet-bombed legislative offices with a mailer making the “vets hardest hit case.”

It turns out that this strategy is not limited to Wisconsin. Forces opposing prevailing wage reform in Missouri and Illinois have also adopted this strategy. VoteVets, the progressive veterans group responsible for the cited by the Huffington Post is running an ad opposing prevailing wage reform in Illinois:

The Missouri state legislature is consider a repeal of prevailing wage and an online video opposing the measure also mentions the impact to veterans:

Here is a review of Media Trackers’ 2016 analysis challenging the “vets hardest hit” argument against prevailing wage reform:

The gist of the report is that because veterans work in the construction industry, and because construction workers are the workforce impacted by prevailing wage laws, any changes to such laws are a veterans issue.

Even while acknowledging that only a small minority of construction workers are veterans (a reasonable fact given that at any given time the U.S. military makes up about 1% of the total population today), the study goes to great lengths to argue that veterans as a population group are more likely to be in construction trades than non-veterans.

The justification for this claim is that in 39 states veterans make up a larger share of the construction workforce than they do of the total workforce. For example, in Wisconsin veterans make up 5.48% of the total workforce, but they make up 8.3% of the construction trades. In Illinois, veterans are 4.51% of the total labor force but they are 7.39% of the construction workforce.

But this calculation is hardly an accurate way to depict veteran participation in a particular industry because it makes it appear as if more veterans work in construction than in other industries. In addition to being a small minority of construction workers, veterans are a small percentage of the total workforce.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, younger veterans (post-1991) are less likely to work in construction than other industries. Referred to as “Gulf War” veterans (the first Gulf War was in 1991, the War on Terror is classified as the “Second Gulf War” in this Census data) they are more likely to be found working in management or protective service sectors than on a job site. A Census Bureau report on veteran employment describes it this way:

“Gulf War-era men were less likely to work in construction occupations and sales and related occupations, compared with nonveteran men.”

That statement, based on census data, blows a gigantic hole in the IEPI study which builds its entire premise that prevailing wage is a veterans issue off of the claim that veterans are more likely to be working construction than nonveterans.

Another glaring flaw of the study is that it fails to put into context the number of construction jobs that fall under prevailing wage requirements. Reading the study it would appear that the majority of construction jobs are bound by prevailing wage requirements, which in turn (according to the authors) substantially impact the incomes of veterans employed in the trades. But the reality is only a minority of total construction jobs fall under prevailing wage provisions.

In Wisconsin, for example, before the partial repeal of prevailing wage was enacted only about 20% of all construction jobs contained prevailing wage restrictions according to a pro-prevailing wage estimate. That means while 91.7% of construction workers in Wisconsin have never served in the military, 80% of all Wisconsin construction jobs never qualified for prevailing wage regulations.

Nevertheless, the IEPI study summary claims, “Prevailing wage improves economic outcomes for veteran workers. Prevailing wage standards make construction employment more attractive for veterans.” But the actual study explicitly states: “Prevailing wage laws affect all workers the same regardless of race, gender, veteran status, or any other factor.”

So either prevailing wage is a veterans issue, as the first statement asserts, or it is not a veterans issue because it applies to all workers equally regardless of veteran status, a noteworthy point given that the vast majority of construction workers are not veterans. The conflicting statements reveal the lengths to which pro-labor union groups will go to advocate for higher taxpayer costs on construction projects.

In addition to failing to point out how few total construction projects are bound by the prevailing wage requirement, the IEPI study authors also overlook any mention of compliance costs with prevailing wage. For small business owners and entrepreneurs of the sort often found in the construction trades, the complexities of complying with prevailing wage mandates can serve as a disincentive to bid on government jobs.

Finally, the study authors make the eyebrow-raising claim that military service is closely related to prevailing wage-regulated construction projects. “[B]oth military and civilian construction careers include elements of public service, from defending the country to developing the public infrastructure on which Americans rely,” they write. Certainly there is a degree of job satisfaction in both career fields, but prevailing wage or no prevailing wage, most job sites in the United States don’t involve getting shot at, nor do superiors have the freedom to push employees to work far more than 8 hours a day.