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Economist on Biden's infrastructure plan: 'This is a great opportunity to reconnect with the blue collar work force'

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce Chief Economist Nicole Smith breaks down President Biden's infrastructure plan.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. In our Rebuilding America segment this week, we've been talking a lot about what's included in President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan. But what about what it means for America's workers? On that front, a new report breaks down that we could see potentially 15 million jobs created or saved over the next eight to 10 years when you think about how it's going to impact workers here in the economy.

And for more on that, I want to bring on one of the authors behind that report. Nicole Smith is Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce Chief Economist. She joins us now. Good to be chatting with you here today. I mean, talk to me about this report. You guys dig into how much it means for workers, and particularly workers that may have not enjoyed in as much of the robust growth when we talk about some of this getting outsourced. Talk to me about what this plan means for those blue collar workers out there looking for a rebound of their own.

NICOLE SMITH: Well, good morning, everyone, and thank you so very much for having me here. So we've looked at this particular infrastructure report. We've tried to analyze the impact of spending $2.3 trillion on infrastructure. It's long overdue. We've been talking about this for quite some time-- in fact, started discussing in detail initially with the Obama administration, then the Trump administration, and now with this administration.

But I think what's interesting here is that our analysis shows of the 50 million jobs we could potentially create or save as a result of this recession, there's going to be 8 million for people with high school or less. So this is really a great opportunity to reconnect with the blue collar workforce that have been bleeding jobs left and right since the demise of manufacturing. So there's money in here to beef up manufacturing. There's money in here for buildings, utilities, electric vehicles. There's a great opportunity for everyone.

AKIKO FUJITA: Nicole, to what extent did the skills that are going to be required from these new jobs likely to come online match the skills that are in the market? And to what extent do you think that upskilling is going to be necessary?

NICOLE SMITH: Well, it's going to be necessary 100%. And in fact, if we were to learn a bit about what, you know, from the previous time we spent billions of in infrastructure, shovel-ready jobs are not necessarily shovel-ready.

So we're going to have to upskill. We're going to make sure that individuals have access to the training and education they need. There's going to be partnerships with community colleges and partnerships with for-profit organizations so that there's short-term training, certificates, test-based licenses and certifications. This is going to be a highly credentialed field, even though most of the workers have less than high school diploma to do it.

ZACK GUZMAN: When we talk about spreading this out too, you guys break down Blue states and Red states, which ones might be impacted here. And obviously, interesting to see Blue states might gain about 8.6 million versus Red states, 6.4. But talk to me about how the evenness here might be there beyond breaking it down Red versus Blue, all the states that stand to gain from the jobs being added.

NICOLE SMITH: Absolutely. I mean, if you want to look at Blue states, Red states, Purple states, then you do have that type of breakdown, which is really reflective of the population differences in these states. But I think what's really important is what types of jobs we're going to create here. We're going to create family-sustaining jobs across the board. This is going to be opportunities for people to work in creating-- creating jobs in manufacturing, creating jobs for high-speed internet, especially even in rural areas that didn't have access to that before.

If nothing else, the pandemic has demonstrated that access to high-speed internet is instrumental for our quality of life, even including education. So we have to make sure that all Americans have access to that. And across the board, irrespective of if we're looking at Blue or Purple states or Red states, this is a tremendous opportunity.

AKIKO FUJITA: Nicole, let's talk about the clean energy initiatives that are included in the infrastructure bill. The president has said this is going to lead to a big boom in green jobs. And yet, you've heard some of these unions come forward and say they don't pay the same wages that some of the jobs that are being replaced in the fossil fuels industry are. What did you find in your study in terms of where the pay stands?

NICOLE SMITH: So this is going to be a topic that really needs to be discussed. We have to talk about prevailing wages if this plan is going to have family-sustaining careers for individuals. And I understand the plight of unions. They will be concerned about making sure that workers who are on these projects are paid a good, prevailing wage. And I think the Biden administration has spoken about this at length.

So this is going to be part of the discussion, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do about it.