July 16, 2021
That data point probably should have been mentioned in a NYT article reporting that relatively few of the jobs created in the clean energy sector are high-paying union jobs. The piece tells readers that this means that the shift to clean energy could end up increasing inequality:
“While Mr. Biden has proposed higher wage floors for such work, the Senate prospects for this approach are murky. And absent such protections — or even with them — there’s a nagging concern among worker advocates that the shift to green jobs may reinforce inequality rather than alleviate it.”
Last year, there were 219,000 union members employed by utilities. Even if these jobs were eliminated over night it would have a small impact on inequality in a workforce of 150 million. As a practical matter, even an aggressive push towards clean energy would likely still mean phasing out these jobs over a 20 year period. That would mean losing an average of 22,000 jobs a year.
The impact of this pace of job loss in the utility sector would be dwarfed by other factors, like government-granted patent and copyright monopolies or the overall unemployment rate, in determining the extent of inequality in the country. The impact of the explosion of the trade deficit in the first decade of this century was an order of magnitude larger, yet it received almost no attention from the media at the time it was happening.
If we are concerned about inequality, we still should try to promote union jobs in the clean energy sector as much as possible. However, union employment in the sector is simply too small to have a major impact on economy-wide measures of inequality.