By Luke Popovich
News this month that the U.S. jobs market showed a pulse was hailed by the administration as proof the ailing economy was on the mend. But private analysts, pundits and the 13 million Americans still unemployed know better.
There are five people still seeking work for every job available, and this counts only the jobless still looking, not those who have given up. Many obviously have, say labor economists. And the jobs that are available pay substantially less than those created in recent recoveries. So even after bottoming out, the jobs market is at best limping toward recovery.
Against this dismal picture coal operators and their supply chain offer cheery news for an administration struggling to turbo charge job creation. A top auditing firm commissioned by the NMA reported more than 555,000 America jobs are supported by coal—154,000 directly and about 401,000 indirectly. The total annual payroll of more than $36 billion points up another advantage we offer: coal jobs pay well, about $72,000 a year on average, says the report.
But these telling facts, underscoring our contribution to solving the jobs crisis, are largely ignored by an administration feint with the vapors from the promise of green energy jobs. The administration channeled more than $90 billion from the stimulus fund into clean energy technologies, hoping to “create” more jobs assembling solar panels and wind turbines, designing sustainable landscapes, weatherizing buildings, building electric cars, etc.
It’s expensive to green the job market. The California solar company Solyndra that won a $535 million loan guarantee from Washington to build a new plant with the promise of creating 1,000 jobs closed another plant and downsized its workforce after citing weak demand and environmental opposition.
Last month, the president delivered a green energy speech at Georgetown University. The theme was energy independence from foreign oil, so we listened patiently for a mention of abundant domestic coal and the new jobs that are possible from developing the many synthetic fuels that derive from coal—jobs that pay well and would not migrate offshore. But aside from a passing mention of “clean coal” technology—code for plants that will capture and store carbon in the future—there was nothing to suggest coal was relevant to energy independence, let alone job growth today.
In fact, the administration’s FY12 budget proposes a billion dollar boost for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy—and a $418 million cut in the fossil energy budget that supports advanced coal technologies. Again, the promise was green jobs as well as a cleaner economy.
A skeptical Congress is taking a harder look too at the subsidies needed to sustain green jobs. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, wants an accounting of how many jobs they have actually created, not just “saved.” He suspects green subsidies detract from investments in real job-creating opportunities. Won’t subsidizing electric hybrids simply cannibalize job prospects from conventional auto sales?
The problem here isn’t that such jobs are green; it’s that they don’t exist—at least not anywhere near the numbers or the quality that match the high expectations created for them. Even accepting the administration’s claim that more than 200,000 jobs have been created or “saved” in the green energy industry, that doesn’t dent the 7.7 million jobs lost since the recession took hold three years ago.
“Green jobs quite frankly don’t exist,” said United Mine Workers lobbyist Bill Banig, surveying the jobs market in Appalachia. “By and large, if coal jobs disappear, those are the best paying jobs in these areas.”
The same holds true in California, the mecca of green energy. A new report by the University of California at Berkeley warns state officials that the “pool of unemployed workers is likely to exceed the number of new jobs created in the energy efficiency and related sectors at least until 2020.” The gap between expectation and reality is just as great in Europe, where first Spain, then the UK learned that rich state subsidies didn’t yield net job creation. A study by Verso Economics found 3.7 jobs were lost for every one created in the UK as a whole, despite the more than a $500 million subsidies paid to the renewable industry.
The carbon-light industry is also a jobs-light employer.
Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.