Clean Energy Job Losses: 600,000, and Counting, from COVID Impacts

May 18, 2020 | 11:52 am
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

The latest analysis of clean energy job losses in the US shows that the news is even worse than expected. As of the end of April, the toll stood at almost 600,000 US clean energy workers out of work, and the number seemed certain to climb.

The clean energy job loss numbers have, as analysts predicted, gone far beyond the job-loss tally from the early days of this crisis that I reported on last month. The earlier analysis found more than 100,000 in unemployment filings by clean energy workers in March, the leading edge of the COVID storm, and projected that job losses would grow to several times that initial figure.

But the new numbers go beyond even those dire early projections. The updated analysis by BW Research Partnership, on behalf of E2, E4TheFuture, and ACORE, includes this (emphasis added):

 April brought clean energy job losses triple those seen in March, for an estimated 447,200 new clean energy jobs lost. This totals 594,300 clean energy jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic, or a 17 percent drop in clean energy employment. The cumulative losses represent more than double the past 3 years of industry-wide clean energy employment growth, now erased. Due to updates in reported March employment statistics, the estimated 106,400 clean energy jobs lost during March has been revised up to 147,100 jobs…

Where the job losses are

The US clean energy job losses have been across the sectors included in the analysis:

The fact that the bulk of the job losses have been in energy efficiency is not surprising, given that efficiency comprises the lion’s share of clean energy jobs (more than 2 million out of the total 3 million clean energy workers at the end of 2019). But that particular piece is a blow that hits double for US households. Once because of the importance of the jobs that are being lost, or not gained (including for a diverse workforce). And a second time because of the efficiency measures that aren’t happening, even as incomes across the economy take a hit and households could benefit even more from the energy savings that efficiency can offer.

As with the COVID crisis in general, the BW analysis shows, the job losses are even worse for people of color—in this case, for Hispanic/Latino clean energy workers (emphasis added):

The BLS April Employment Situation shows us that in the overall economy racial and ethnic minorities, women, young workers, and those with less educational attainment are currently suffering higher unemployment rates … Hispanic and Latino clean energy workers were hit the hardest of clean energy demographics; the clean energy industry is about 14 percent Hispanic/Latino, but an estimated 25 percent of the job losses in the clean energy industry are Hispanic/Latino workers. All non-white racial and ethnic minorities constitute about 37 percent of the clean energy industry while representing 31 percent of job losses.

Geographically, the clean energy job loss crisis is widespread. The analysis showed that California, the state with the largest clean energy workforce, also had the highest number of layoffs in April, but that Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and Texas each also lost more than 20,000 clean energy jobs. Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, and Louisiana took the biggest hits percentage-wise, each losing more than 20% last month.

Georgia, which was actually looking okay based on the March figures, stands out in this update. As the associated press release underscores, “no state was hit harder in terms of total number and share of its clean energy workforce than Georgia”:

In addition to suffering the fifth most total job losses, the state lost 31% of its clean energy workforce—the highest percentage of any state and double the national average of 15%.

Do we really need to lose 1 of every 4 clean energy workers? Definitely not.

The new release includes an equally somber note about what’s ahead:

In the coming months, the analysis projects that job losses will continue to rise unless Congress and the Trump administration take quick and substantive action to support the clean energy industry and its workers. If nothing is done, the report forecasts that 850,000 clean energy workers will have filed for unemployment by June 30.

A loss of that magnitude would mean that one out of every four clean energy workers employed at the start of 2020 will have lost their jobs in just six months.

The “[i]f nothing is done” is a key piece, and would be an unacceptable outcome. Congress clearly has tools available for restarting the clean energy sector’s solid, proven job creation ability. And given these latest figures, it’s clear that now is a whole lot better time for action than later.

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.