Jobs report underscores Covid-19 impact on U.S. clean energy sector


It’s no secret that the U.S. job market has been devastated by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Clean energy jobs were no exception.

According to a new report, the U.S. clean energy industry finished 2020 with its fewest number of workers since 2015. It also marked the first year the industry saw a decline in jobs compared to the previous year. Although an uptick in employment in December was reported, with clean energy businesses adding 16,900 jobs, that left a gap of more than 429,000 (12%) of the industry’s pre-Covid workforce.

The report comes from BW Research Partnership and is based on an analysis of federal unemployment filings prepared for E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4TheFuture, and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). The report covered jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, and clean transmission, distribution, and storage, among other clean energy sectors.

Ten months after the unemployment crisis began, 70% of the jobs lost in the clean energy sector have yet to be recovered, according to the monthly report. At the rate of recovery since June, it would take about two-and-a-half years for the clean energy sector to reach pre-Covid employment levels. The report added it would take another year to reach the levels of clean energy employment that had been projected for 2020 before the pandemic struck.

The jobs report did not include workers who had their work hours cut and are now underemployed.

Sector and state impacts

According to the report, no U.S. clean energy employment sector grew by more than 0.7% in December. Energy efficiency saw the strongest employment growth, adding 12,300 jobs. It was followed by renewable energy (2,700) and clean transmission, distribution, and storage (750).

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia are still reporting double-digit unemployment in clean energy, with 12 states experiencing unemployment of 15% or more. The report said Georgia has the highest rate, with more than 30% of its clean energy workforce still unemployed, followed by Kentucky at 27%.

In December, Hawaii had the sector’s highest growth rate at 1.2%. California saw the largest total increase in jobs with 3,300 positions added (0.7%). Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, and Texas all added more than 600 jobs, while 15 states added fewer than 100 each.

The report noted that the impacts of the pandemic-fueled job crisis continue to disproportionately impact women and Black and Hispanic workers. Women—particularly women of color—and Hispanic workers lost jobs overall in December despite total clean energy employment growing slightly, at a rate of 0.6%.

Call for action

The groups behind the report called on federal lawmakers and the incoming Biden administration to step up efforts to support those suffering from unemployment, reinvigorate the economy, and help boost the clean energy industry.

“December’s clean energy employment numbers can only be described as anemic,” said Gregory Wetstone, ACORE’s president and CEO. He called on the incoming Biden administration and the new Congress to move past “the endless cycle of temporary stopgap measures” to enact “the kind of comprehensive, long-term, scientifically driven climate policy that puts millions to work building the clean energy future Americans want and deserve.”

The full report is available here.

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