Rich Miller is right: Illinois has a jobs crisis. We have a plan to help solve it.
We at the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition read with great interest the recent post from Rich Miller of Capitol Fax outlining alarming statistics documenting the decline of Illinois’ manufacturing base. He also showed how our anemic jobs record has a broad impact on the quality of life in communities across Illinois.
Over the past seven years:
> Wisconsin created 44,100 manufacturing jobs;
> Ohio created 75,900 manufacturing jobs;
> Indiana created 83,700 manufacturing jobs;
> Michigan created 171,300 manufacturing jobs.
And Illinois? Our state created a meager 4,600 manufacturing jobs.
Even Idaho created 9,100 jobs in manufacturing.
When Illinois creates half as many factory jobs as Idaho (“a state better known for potato farms,” as Miller writes), you know we have a full-blown jobs crisis on our hands. In fact, in July, Illinois was tied for the third-worst unemployment rate in the country.
We believe our plan can help.
Miller is even-handed in saying that the responsibility for creating jobs is not exclusive to one party, and he calls on Illinois leaders to “step up and offer a plan.”
Once the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill (SB1485/HB2607) fully ramps up, the bipartisan plan would create 32,000 jobs over the course of a decade in every part of Illinois.
In a divided Springfield, fixing the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), expanding successful energy efficiency programs, and expanding low-income energy projects is supported by Republicans and Democrats, as well as the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, which includes more than 150 businesses and 60 organizations including groups advocating for environmental justice.
What it means for jobs:
> By fixing the broken RPS, Illinois can again gain solar and wind energy jobs, instead of losing them as we did last year and seeing big gains in other states.
> It would create thousands of jobs, especially in energy efficiency, that cannot be outsourced or moved overseas, let alone to other states.
> And the expanded energy efficiency component would build them in every corner of Illinois, from economically disadvantages neighborhoods in Chicago to small cities in towns across that state which have lost manufacturing jobs over the last twenty years.
The fact is: Illinois hasn’t modernized its energy policy in a way that creates jobs for nearly a decade.
This is a lost opportunity, and our losses can be measured in the gains that other states have made at our expense:
> Barely a week goes by without Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, whose state is already a leader in renewable energy, announcing a new plan for big investments and the jobs that come with them.
> Last year, Michigan gained 700 jobs in the field of solar energy, and Ohio gained 500 jobs. Nationally, solar jobs are increasing at 12 times the rate of the overall economy.
Meanwhile, Illinois lost more than 500 jobs in wind and solar combined last year.
It’s time to reverse this trend. And it’s time to spread these gains to every community.
Miller writes movingly of driving along rural roads that “meander through some little Illinois towns that are almost dead.”
These are the very parts of the state where clean energy can offer huge potential for job growth.
Already, according to Illinois State University, wind farms located primarily in Central Illinois are adding more than $6.4 billion to our state’s economy. By fixing the state’s broken RPS, we will go a long way toward making more wind projects — and jobs — a reality.
No part of our state is immune from the impact of manufacturing’s disappearance, and the devastating results are not limited to small towns. Miller cites academics who conclude that “(F)actory jobs have been on a slow decline sine the 1980s and have, in part, contributed to the poverty of Chicago’s neighborhoods.”
The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill would help break down barriers that have blocked some communities — especially communities of color — from taking part in the clean energy economy. This is critical.
Change is needed. Now.
Of states surveyed by the Economic Policy Institute, Illinois had the highest unemployment rate for African Americans (14.1 %) in the first quarter of 2016, far above this census group’s national rate of 9%.
An example of how the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill can address this is by spurring the development of community solar, which is virtually non-existent in Illinois. This would allow more low- and moderate-income people to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy as consumers — and as installers and entrepreneurs.
But the biggest gains will be registered in new energy efficiency jobs — which can be built, as they have, in every corner of Illinois.
Since Illinois’ energy efficiency standards were enacted in 2007, they have lowered energy bills by over $1 billion. Plus, an industry has emerged that now employs more than 86,000 workers statewide who design efficiency measures, upgrade appliances and weatherize or insulate buildings.
Utility ComEd and its parent company Exelon deserve credit for drafting legislation (SB1585) that would expand these programs to save customers in ComEd’s service area up to $4 billion over the next decade and, with it, create more jobs. Sadly, these benefits would be limited to Northern Illinois.
Now is not the time to leave Central and Southern Illinois in the dark when it comes to new jobs and savings.
Ameren Illinois must step up to the plate — just as ComEd has — to help grow jobs and help consumers.
According to Ameren’s own database, there are hundreds of energy efficiency firms in its service territory. Boosting efficiency standards, and lifting artificial caps that unnecessarily block investment in this area, would be a boon to all of them. Central and Southern Illinois is especially fertile ground for savings through energy efficiency, due to the large number of industrial users in this part of the state.
We need action. Now.
We acknowledge that clean energy is not the cure-all to every problem that Rich Miller cites. We cannot promise an end to violence in Chicago or an overnight prosperity for economically devastated downstate communities.
But, the chance to create 32,000 new jobs doesn’t come along everyday, especially to communities that need them most.
Illinois’ communities cannot wait.
Every day we wait, other states gain; every day we delay, Illinois workers’, in all parts of Illinois, lose the chance at a paycheck, and communities in Illinois fall further behind.
Let’s act now.