Biden's Climate Agenda Threatened by Wage Gaps Former U.S. Sec. of Energy Ernest Moniz speaks during the National Clean Energy Summit 9.0 on October 13, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit)
By Jeffrey Rodack | Tuesday, 06 April 2021 10:54 AM
A big wage gap between the new green energy jobs and the traditional fossil fuel positions could hamper President Joe Biden’s attempts to sell his climate agenda to the nation’s workers.
According to Politico, data compiled by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz shows energy industry workers who have jobs with solar and wind power companies are earning less than those who drill for natural gas or mine coal.
The median wage for solar workers is $24.48 an hour. But for those employed by the natural gas sector, the median wage is $30.33.
The wind, solar, and construction jobs that would surge under Biden's policies are well below them on the median pay scale, Politico noted.
"The big message is that the energy industry has a significantly higher median wage than does the economy as a whole. That's very important," said Moniz, who was in charge of the Energy Department during former President Barack Obama's second term. "There's clearly a distribution of wages — as there is in any other sector — because of the level at which specialized skills are needed."
And Jason Walsh, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, an organization of labor unions and environmental groups working on environmental issues, maintained that Biden understands the importance of the labor movement within the transition to a clean energy economy, Politico said.
"His understanding of labor, I think, extends to knowing intuitively that you can't expect workers and their representatives to embrace this transformation if they can't continue to get work that will pay family-sustaining wages and benefits and be a career," Walsh said. "The reality is that there is so much work that will be created by this transformation that it is just imperative that we get the job quality piece right."
Still, labor groups are concerned that Biden’s plan will put an end to the kind of steady, fixed-location jobs provided by coal mines or fossil fuel power plants, and lead to many temporary construction jobs.
"For people that are in the fossil sector, the prospect of moving to the clean energy sector if you have to take a pay cut is not attractive," said Brad Markell, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council.
NPR noted oil and gas jobs are lucrative, but volatile. The outlet pointed out the oil and gas industry can create opportunities, particularly for those without college degrees, but they can quickly disappear. It pointed out clean energy jobs are less volatile.
"You just have a straight sort of linear trend in most of those occupations over time, not the wild fluctuations that you see in oil," said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at job postings site Ziprecruiter.
Politico said the median hourly wage for all U.S. energy workers is $25.60 — 34% higher than the national median hourly wage of $19.14, according to the data from Moniz.
And the energy sector has lost fewer jobs than other parts of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.