DEFINITION of Shovel Ready

Shovel Ready  is a phrase describing the status of a project that is considered to be in the advanced stages of development. Shovel-ready implies that the project can be begun by laborers and is past the planning stages.


The phrase "shovel ready" is used when referring to projects that, if given stimulus money, will have the most immediate impact on employment and the economy. While stimulus spending on shovel-ready projects is designed to help the economy, it is possible that misguided projects will be undertaken simply for the sake of spending, and that government funds could be better used elsewhere.

Exiting the Great Recession

The term shovel ready was used often in the years after the financial crisis of 2008-09 as policymakers struggled to get the economy moving again. One way to do this was to direct public money to projects said to be shovel-ready. Plans were already drawn up and ground could be broken quickly. 

For example, the nuclear cleanup at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., received $1.6 billion in stimulus money. "As soon as the money arrived in the summer of 2009, the retired cold war nuclear plant hired thousands of workers to decommission reactors, install pumps in the liquid waste tanks and ship barrels of solid waste to a salt formation in the Chihuahuan Desert. Workers from out of town filled up nearly all of the area’s apartments, hotels and restaurants. The county’s unemployment dropped to 8.5% from 10.2% in a matter of months," noted a report in the New York Times.

Critics contend that shovel-ready really meant six months to a year or even two or three years of planning before projects could be put into operation. Harvard economist Martin Feldstein calculated that each job created by President Obama’s American Jobs Act would cost taxpayers $200,000 - a figure that government officials didn't dispute at the time.

The Transportation Department's estimate of stimulus projects stated that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "initiated more than 13,000 projects through the Federal Highway Administration, improving more than 42,000 miles of road and more than 2,700 bridges."

President Trump had criticized the stimulus as having built nothing, but in his first year in office he talked about a $1 trillion infrastructure package, a proposal that Congress had not taken up as of mid-2018.

The truth is massive construction projects take a lot of planning and few of them exist as sets of shovel-ready plans all filed away with the necessary approval permits in place.