Given the current state of the U.S. economy and the particularly hard time this country is having trying to dig itself out of this economic hole, it is easy to forget how much money the federal government has already invested in infrastructure projects aimed at addressing societal needs and righting the sagging economy.
Laura Norén at Graphic Sociology took a look at recovery spending on infrastructure, broke it down by state and put it in the graphical context you see above. Most of the roughly $150 billion in infrastructure investment came via the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), although there were some smaller infrastructure pieces of legislation passed.
President Obama's approach to infrastructure, though not nearly as aggressive and wide-ranging as he would have liked, loosely follows the Keynesian principle of economic growth: direct government investment that puts people to work will stimulate demand and grow the economy. That principle, which was the underlying philosophy behind FDR's New Deal public works programs, emphasizes investment in projects that benefit the public good — projects that are largely ignored by market forces.
So why hasn't this infrastructure investment had a more significant impact on economic growth?
Infrastructure in Roosevelt's time meant building roads, bridges, water works, public buildings, gathering places, and so forth. Infrastructure in Obama's time refers mostly to high-speed rail, broadband, electricity transmission and energy projects. While there is some crossover between the two, the 'second generation' infrastructure projects, while consuming considerable resources, don't generally require as much manpower as their first generation counterparts — partially because of technological advances in machinery, but also because of the nature of the work. As a result, fewer people were hired on to complete these projects.
But even more damaging to the success of the strategy was that several states flat out rejected the money.
This graphic represents spending projects approved by the U.S. Government, not projects that were ultimately approved or implemented by the states themselves. In Florida, for example, the large brown square represents what the Obama administration and Congress allocated to the state for high-speed rail projects, not what they actually received. Remember, Florida, along with other states including Ohio and Wisconsin, rejected funding for high speed rail.
For that reason, Norén and her collaborators decided to drop two of the spending areas from the final graphic—rail and broadband—because of the political stickiness they were wrapped in. That final draft breaks down spending into three broad categories, as opposed to the five-category schema you see above.
Norén explains in a comment: "I haven’t been given the go-ahead to release that final version to the general public. Making graphics that have political content has higher stakes than I realized."