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Why it's good to be fixing roads, repairing bridges

Workers in a tunnel of the Second Avenue Subway project in New York City.
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Workers in a tunnel of the Second Avenue Subway project in New York City.

Good paying jobs are hard to find these days.

And America's infrastructure—the backbone of the U.S. economy—is producing a lot more of them than just shovel-ready construction projects, according to an analysis by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

More than 14 million Americans—rightly 1 in 10 workers—builds, operates or maintains the roads, bridges, airports, railways and other infrastructure, the study found. The workforce spans 95 occupations and 42 industries. Those workers are paid better than average, according to the Brookings report.

Workers in lower-paid infrastructure occupations earn 30 percent more than other sectors. And although some 12 percent hold a bachelor's degree or higher, workers generally need less education to qualify for these jobs, according to the report.

"Since the Great Recession there's been a constant desire to find more and better jobs," said researcher Joseph Kane who co-authored the Brookings report. "These are long-term jobs that have a benefit for the country and the economy beyond just the construction of the structures themselves."

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While construction jobs are the most visible, they make up only 15 percent of the infrastructure workforce, according to the Brooking analysis.

America's transportation network, power plants, water systems and other infrastructure are going to need even more workers over the next decade as the nation's aging infrastructure is repaired and replaced.

Decades of under-funding has left U.S. highways, bridges, airports, power stations, dams and waste treatment plants in need of a major overhaul. The American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives the country a D+ grade on infrastructure, estimates it will take some $3.6 trillion to bring it up to a passing grade.

After a surge in spending under the White House's stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, federal funding for infrastructure projects has fallen. Unless Congress acts, spending on roads and highways is set to fall even further with the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to run out of money this summer.

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Even without new spending, the sector will continue to create a large pool of relatively high-wage jobs. That's because America's again infrastructure is also maintained and operated by an aging workforce that will need to be replaced, according to Kane.

"A quarter of the entire infrastructure workforce—2.7 million people—are projected to be replaced over the next decade alone," he said. "That's a lot of shoes to fill."

By CNBC's John Schoen. Follow him on Twitter @johnwschoen or email him.

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