While the transition to electric vehicles is "inevitable," the consequences for U.S. workers depend on how policymakers manage the shift. With "smart policy," lawmakers can turn the coming auto industry "upheaval" into an opportunity to create up to 150,000 "good jobs" by 2030.
"We can ensure the shift to electric vehicles creates jobs and benefits workers—if policymakers act."
—Jim Barrett, Economist
That's according to a new report released Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which also warns that if the shift to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) is not accompanied by policies to onshore manufacturing and improve job quality, then more than 75,000 jobs could be lost.
"This report shows both the challenges and opportunities of the transition to electric vehicles," Jim Barrett, principal at Barrett Economics and co-author of the report, said in a statement. "While the transition itself may be inevitable, the economic impact is not. We can ensure the shift to electric vehicles creates jobs and benefits workers—if policymakers act."
The report states:
The jobs embedded in the U.S. automobile supply chain once provided a key foundation for middle-class growth and prosperity. A cascade of poor policy decisions has eroded employment and job quality in this sector and this has helped to degrade labor standards across U.S. manufacturing and throughout the overall economy (Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Brooks, and Mulloy 2015). The industry transformation coming due to the widespread adoption of BEVs provides an opportunity to reverse these trends.
The transformations necessary to ensure that this shift to BEVs supports U.S. employment and job quality—investment in advanced technology production and strengthening supply chains—will redound widely throughout manufacturing and aid growth in other sectors as well. The shift to BEVs is a key part of mitigating the dire consequences of global climate change, and the more this shift is supported by complementary policies and has clear benefits for workers' job quality and economic security, the more useful it will be as a model for transforming other key economic sectors in ways necessary to combat climate change and ensure prosperous, fair, and equitable outcomes for working people.
EPI's analysis stresses that "the policy actions needed to boost job quality and employment in the auto sector in coming years are not radical."
"Instead, they are commonsense measures like ensuring that any taxpayer subsidies or rebates to incentivize auto purchases come attached with specific requirements on labor standards in the industry, and with measures to boost investment in domestic auto capacity of U.S. producers and suppliers," the report continues. "If policymakers pass such commonsense measures, the U.S. can regain leadership in auto production in coming decades, and the benefits of this leadership will accrue to workers in the industry."
If BEVs rise to 50% of U.S. auto sales by 2030, up to 150,000 auto sector jobs could be created in that time period, researchers note. But for the auto industry to be a catalyst for good-paying jobs, lawmakers must develop better trade agreements and encourage unionization.
Because Black workers and workers with less than a bachelor's degree constitute a disproportionate share of auto parts and assembly employment, they have the most to gain from sound policymaking that results in increased domestic production of BEVs—and the most to lose from policy inaction.
"If the shift to electric vehicles is accompanied by strategic investments in technology alongside measures to strengthen bargaining power for workers, then the number and quality of jobs will rise together with electric vehicle production," Josh Bivens, director of research at EPI and co-author of the report, said in a statement.
"Without these policy efforts, however," warned Bivens, "employment could instead decline and job quality continue to march downward."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Kenny Stancil.