For as long as I can remember, politicians have gone to great lengths to proclaim their “support for our troops” – calling for proper equipment and training to do the tough jobs we assign them, as well as a fair wage, good benefits and proper care for our veterans both during deployments and after we get home.
It is no secret that over the past decade and a half, we have fallen short too often on these promises. We’ve strained military readiness with repeated and extended deployments, and fallen short of the standard of support that homecoming veterans were promised in many other areas – including at the backlogged VA and in helping our newest generation of returning heroes transition into stable, civilian employment.
In some instances, we’ve even had politicians actively pursue policies that make it harder for veterans – often with little accountability for their actions.
Such has been the case with efforts to weaken or eliminate prevailing wage laws – a market-based policy that determines the minimum wage for skilled construction work on publicly financed projects. While these laws have enjoyed bipartisan support as the best value for taxpayers and the economy for generations, at least 11 states – including Illinois – have considered weakening or eliminating these standards in the past two years alone.
So what does prevailing wage have to do with veterans? A lot. Veterans pursue jobs in construction at substantially higher rates than nonveterans. And this means that any effort to weaken these laws would have an outsized impact on veterans.
New peer-reviewed research commissioned by VoteVets.org spells out in vivid detail what these impacts would look like.
Specifically, it notes that if all states repealed their prevailing wage laws, veterans in the industry would see their incomes decline by more than $3 billion; tens of thousands would lose their employer-based health coverage; and thousands more would slip below the poverty line. More than 65,000 veterans would leave the construction industry altogether, and nearly 8,000 veteran-owned construction businesses would be pushed out of business.
And beyond the impact on the economic security of veterans, the research shows that repeal also would be a loser for taxpayers and our economy. States without prevailing wage laws spend just as much on their public construction projects – they just spend more on materials and more on food stamps and Medicaid for construction workers, and ship more of their tax dollars to contractors from out of state in return for lower-quality workmanship.
As an Iraq War veteran myself, I know firsthand the challenges that many veterans face in coming home from war. Beyond overcoming physical or emotional wounds lies the work of utilizing our military skills for civilian careers that can support our families.
Those seeking to eliminate prevailing wage laws would be well-served to remember that for the better part of 15 years, our military has been engaged not just in the work of defeating terrorists, but in rebuilding communities destroyed by decades of war. In fact, I did this work myself. The Army trained me as an equipment operator, and I spent 12 months in Iraq in 2003 building roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.
Now, like many other Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, I have been able to come home and earn a respectable living building the local schools, libraries, bridges and hospitals that are needed here in Illinois, and across our country.
Any politician who wants to deny us this opportunity by eliminating prevailing wage is not supporting the troops. They are shortchanging veterans, our economy and our community.
• Mike Pounovich of Minooka was a specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves from 2000 to 2009. He was trained as an equipment operator in the Army, and spent 12 months in Iraq in 2003 building roads, bridges and infrastructure.