American Jobs Acts student impact uncertain

When President Barack Obama announced his American Jobs Act, he said his intent was to retain and create jobs. Yet students looking for engineering, architecture, education or small business jobs may benefit from the act more than others.

Of the $447 billion outlined in the act, which was announced Sept. 12, $50 billion is allocated for “immediate investments for highways, transit, rail and aviation, helping to modernize … infrastructure.”

For Florida, the act includes at least $1.6 billion in infrastructure funding that could support “approximately 20,500 local jobs.” However ,the act still has to be passed by Congress before its benefits can come to fruition.

Career Center Director Drema Howard said funding for infrastructure projects may provide jobs for engineering and architecture students.

“What I see is that it’s going to be more for the skilled labor,” she said. “They are going to need project managers (and) they are going to need engineers if they are looking at bridges or highways. All of those kinds of things are going to require content knowledge from professionals … or those who are already exploring those industries.”

According to USF Infomart, 2,992 undergraduates and 3,781 graduate students, or 14 percent of the Tampa campus student population, are enrolled in the College of Engineering.

Howard said there are many factors that determine when and how such projects become “shovel-ready.”

“You might have projects that you say, ‘We want to do this renovation or update,’ but how long does it take to be able to put that in place?” she said. “What would be the grant request? What would you be able to do?”

In addition to infrastructure funding, the act proposed cutting small business owners’ payroll tax to 3.1 percent – an initiative that could create additional jobs for students like Kenny Holmlund.

“I plan to be self-employed after I graduate,” Holmlund, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said. “My parents own a business and they pay a ton of taxes. But (the act) does create more jobs, just by lowering taxes on businesses.”

Howard said the majority of employment opportunities for students come from small businesses. However, it is hard to predict if business owners will spend their extra funds to hire more workers or if the government will regulate the tax incentive.

Though the act seems more focused on retaining jobs for those already employed, as opposed to creating new employment opportunities, Howard said education majors may also see benefits.

Obama said the act will prevent up to 280,000 teacher layoffs nationally and provide $1.7 billion to support up to 25,900 teacher and first responder jobs in Florida.

Lynn Spaulding, a junior majoring in elementary education, said if the act meets those expectations, it would be an encouragement to those entering the education field. According to the Democratic Herald, 48 percent of U.S. school districts cut teaching jobs last year and 84 percent are bracing for additional funding cuts.

“It’s already hard enough to be a teacher and not get the salary that a lot of other people make with a … four-year bachelor’s degree, so we are already putting ourselves in a financial burden (by entering the field),” she said. “We’re working really hard and, on top of that, we could possibly be getting laid off? … The fact that (Obama is) making a positive change makes a difference in going through school.”

USF political science professor Susan MacManus said she noticed an even split between students who support the act and those who do not.

“Students are really watching what’s being done in the economy and are facing going into the work force,” she said. “Some are really hopeful that his plan can do it, and others are very skeptical about it. Young voters are closely monitoring the economy.”

Though Obama said the plan is “the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans,” MacManus said it is rare for a president to pass a proposal in Congress.

“There’s always some changes and often compromise,” she said. “Most parties, frankly, are under a lot of pressure to get something done (for re-election). College students, like every other age group in the working ages, … hone in on these plans.”