Local Labor Market Impacts of the Energy Transition: Prospects and Policies
Society’s transition toward more sustainable energy sources is well underway. But substantially reducing the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity, to power vehicles, and to manufacture the stuff of everyday life will profoundly disrupt the communities that currently dedicate themselves to carbon-intensive industries. In this paper, I consider the potential for adverse labor market consequences from the energy transition and the suitability of existing policies to counteract them. Top of mind in this discussion is to avoid repeating the painful adjustment to globalization and automation, which in recent decades brought concentrated job loss and long-lasting economic distress to local labor markets that had been specialized in manufacturing. I begin by mapping the spatial distribution of employment in fossil-fuel-intensive activities across US commuting zones from 2000 forward. Then, using the labor market consequences of the post-1980 decline of coal as a backdrop, I discuss policy options for easing adjustment to the energy transition, including letting market forces work, reinforcing the social safety net, and expanding place-based policies.
This paper was prepared for the Aspen Economic Study Group 2022 Annual Meeting. For helpful comments, I thank Melissa Kearney and Amy Ganz. Jessie Dickens, Jacob Greenspon, Ren� Livas, and Chloe Tanaka provided excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.