FACT CHECK: Does The United States Rank 13th In The World For Infrastructure?
President Joe Biden claimed Sept. 4 that the United States was ranked 13th in the world for infrastructure.
The U.S. was ranked 13th in 2019 for infrastructure, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Biden delivered remarks celebrating Labor Day in front of union workers in Philadelphia, according to CNBC. In the remarks, Biden touted his record, while also claiming that the U.S. was ranked 13th in the world for infrastructure.
“We also passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. You can’t have the strongest economy in the world with a second-rate infrastructure. Can you believe we used to have the best infrastructure in the world and then we fell to number 13 in the world. Roads, bridges, Internet — the whole deal. Thirteen. The United States of America, 13th in the world,” Biden said at the time.
The claim that the U.S. is ranked 13th in the world is based on a ranking from 2019. A White House spokesperson pointed Check Your Fact to the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, which is published by the WEF. In the report, the WEF ranked the U.S. 13th in terms of infrastructure. The WEF ranked the U.S. transportation system as 12th in the world while ranking its railroad system 48th in the world, according to the Washington Post.
There has not been an updated Global Competitiveness Report since 2020, which did not issue global infrastructure rankings. U.S. News does rank countries by “well-developed infrastructure” (the U.S. is ranked #3) but does not expand on how it ranks infrastructure in either its methodology or on the ranking page. (RELATED: Joe Biden Embellishes Fire Story In Recent Remarks In Hawaii)
Charles Lane, an editorial writer and columnist at the Washington Post, that “12 economies the WEF ranked ahead of the United States in 2019, three — Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates — are tiny coastal city-states” and that it’s “patently spurious to compare their infrastructure challenges with those of the United States” in an April 2021 column.
“Relative to other wealthy countries, the United States does still trail the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, Spain, Germany, France, Austria and the United Kingdom. However, it’s more realistic to treat the six continental European countries in this group as a unit, since goods and people move through them freely, via the borderless Schengen area. (The European Union members partly share infrastructure costs.) Coupled with deletion of the aforementioned micro-states, this adjustment puts the United States in the top five,” Lane wrote.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) currently grades the U.S. infrastructure as a C- in its 2021 report card, which is up from a D+ in 2017. The report card states, “The most recent analysis reveals that while we’ve made incremental immediate gains in some of the infrastructure categories, our long-term investment gap continues to grow. We’re still just paying about half of our infrastructure bill – and the total investment gap has gone from $2.1 trillion over 10 years to nearly $2.59 trillion over 10 years. ”
The Council for Foreign Relations noted in a November 2021 backgrounder that “[e]xperts say that U.S. infrastructure is both dangerously overstretched and lagging behind that of its economic competitors, particularly China.” It also notes that U.S. infrastructure used to be ranked fifth in the world in 2002 by the WEF and that the U.S.” invests less in transportation infrastructure as a percentage of GDP” than other countries such as China and France, based on 2019 numbers from the Organization for Economic Development.
Biden touted the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which he signed into law in November 2021. The law authorizes more than $1 trillion, including $550 billion in new spending. Emily Feenstra, the chief policy and external affairs officer at the ASCE, told Check Your Fact that the act allowed for a “long overdue, federal investment in America’s critical infrastructure systems.” (RELATED: Breaking Down Joe Biden’s Claim That Clean Energy Will Make Up 80% Of the Energy Grid By 2030)
“Nearly two years into the IIJA, the first projects to benefit from the increased federal funding are moving from planning to reality. It took decades for America’s infrastructure to get into the condition it is in, and similarly, it will take time to see the visible results of this new infrastructure investment,” Feenstra said. “Designing and planning infrastructure projects takes time, so we’ll be seeing the benefits of the IIJA well past its five-year duration. ASCE is starting work on the 2025 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, and we are looking forward to seeing how the condition of America’s infrastructure has changed.”
A White House spokesperson told Check Your Fact that the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest investment in rebuilding roads and bridges since President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system and will improve our global ranking on infrastructure quality. This historic investment has already spurred more than 37,000 projects in 4,500 communities all across the country.”
Check Your Fact reached out to the WEF for comment on whether or not it was continuing the Global Competitiveness Report and whether it has updated rankings on global infrastructure.
Note: Since the data is from 2019, the rating for this fact-check could change as new data becomes available.