On public construction, some have questioned whether or not prevailing wage is good policy, but a new study just published by Smart Cities Prevail shows that California’s economy gains as many as 17,500 jobs from the state policy.

The debate has taken many forms ranging from the passage of a law known as SB 7 that was designed to encourage more charter cities to pay prevailing wage on public works projects, to various efforts – usually backed by out of town lobbyists – to convince cities to charter in order to eliminate prevailing wage locally.

SB 7 was recently upheld by a California court and more charter cities across the state are now choosing prevailing wage and local residents are enjoying the benefits.  On this past Election Day three cities from the central coast to San Diego County rejected charters by resounding margins that would have eliminated prevailing wage, and the middle class jobs that are proven to come with it.

Nationally, an effort is underway in many states – including neighboring Nevada – to roll back prevailing wage laws that have worked well for decades.

This debate is sure to continue, and that is why we need to separate the facts about prevailing wage from the fiction that is often spread by special interest groups.

Studies over the years have demonstrated that prevailing wage does not cost more than non-prevailing wage projects. It also more often produces projects on time and on budget – and in the process the workplace also sees far fewer injuries.  Having gone through apprenticeship programs and years of training, the workers create the most efficient work environment possible.  They know how to get the job done right on the first try, and that saves time and money.

Previous research has shown that there is little if any cost difference on the front end of prevailing wage projects, but on the back end, taxpayers could pay dearly – and in ways that go beyond the jobs lost.

Building on those findings, our new study concludes that the state would lose nearly 17,500 jobs – not just in the construction industry, but across the economy.  That’s what happens when you take local middle class jobs with benefits and replace them with poverty level wages, no benefits and more out of state workers.

In most cases, prevailing wage workers are far more likely to come from the local area, and that means that tax dollars that we invest in a project stay local and get reinvested in businesses in our community.

Additionally, the state would lose $1.5 billion in income to families and a further $1.4 billion in economic output.  In the process the state would begin exporting its construction jobs at a rate about 5% above today’s levels.

Workers earning a low wage with no health and retirement benefits will be left with no place to turn to but government assistance – adding even more hidden costs to non-prevailing wage projects.  Some studies have shown that the average non-prevailing wage worker could qualify for thousands of dollars a year in social welfare programs. This is a de facto tax increase on everyone else, and represents irresponsible public policy.

Whether building a massive statewide project or a new library for a small community, prevailing wage creates good paying middle class jobs in local communities, stimulates local economies and does it for the same price or less than the alternative.  Rhetoric can sometimes sound convincing, but in this case, it simply can’t stand up to the data and the facts.

Samantha Draper is a researcher with Smart Cities Prevail, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing complete and accurate information on prevailing wage.