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The Environment Versus How Many Jobs?

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Washington Post had an article on concerns among unions about job loss due to various measures from the Biden administration to promote clean energy. The article noted concerns that Biden’s agenda may lead to the loss of good-paying jobs in the fossil fuel sector.

It would have been helpful to point out how many jobs are potentially at stake. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fossil fuel powered electric plants and the pipeline industry, the two sectors discussed in the piece employ 78,700 and 48,200 workers, respectively.

The workers employed in fossil fuel power generation are a bit more than 0.05 percent of total employment, while employment in the pipeline industry is just over 0.03 percent. Employment in fossil fuel power generation was already falling rapidly under the Trump administration, declining by 16,800, or 18.0 percent, over the last four years.

It is also worth noting that in a typical (pre—pandemic) month, roughly 1.8 million workers lose their jobs. Over the course of a year, this would come to 27 million. (Some workers lose a job more than once in a year, so this does not mean 27 million workers lose their job.) The job loss in these industries due to the promotion of clean energy would presumably take place over many years, not all at once.

The fact that other workers frequently lose their jobs does not reduce the hardship for workers losing relatively good paying jobs in the fossil fuel industry. But it is important to place the potential size of the job loss in some context. And, in the case of the fossil fuel power generation sector, it is important to note that there was already substantial job loss under Trump, so job loss is not a new problem that will be created by Biden’s policies, even if it may be accelerated.

This first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

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