Pandemic Sapped Clean Energy Job Growth in Midwest, But Rebound is Strong

August 11, 2021 by Dan McCue
A wind farm in the upper midwest. (Wikimedia Commons)

The coronavirus pandemic reversed three years of dramatic growth in clean energy jobs in the Midwest, but the sector is now rebounding faster than the overall regional workforce, a new report says.

According to Clean Jobs Midwest, released by the nonpartisan business group E2 and the Clean Energy Trust, more than 677,900 Midwesterners worked in clean energy and clean vehicles at the end of 2020, making the sector a significant part of the region’s economy.

But as the pandemic took hold, the industry was as hard hit as many others. At one point, the report said, more than 131,600 Midwest clean energy workers had filed for unemployment.

The sector ultimately surged back 10.7% in the second half of the year to recover more than half of the jobs initially lost. 

The final 2020 job numbers represent an 8.9% drop in the Midwest clean energy workforce from 2019, or 66,100 jobs. 

“2020’s unprecedented crisis showed why this region needs a strong clean energy economy more than ever before. Despite the decline, the data shows clean energy is rebounding back in every state and every county in the Midwest,” said Micaela Preskill, Midwest advocate for E2. “Our state and federal lawmakers should take note: if you want these good paying jobs in your backyard, you need to support the policies on the table that are primed to turbocharge clean energy and keep it growing.”

Energy efficiency jobs saw the biggest drop, declining about 12% over the year as workers were prevented from entering homes and offices because of the pandemic lockdowns. Other clean energy sectors also saw significant declines in 2020, including renewable energy (2.8%) grid and storage (7.8%) and clean fuels (5%).

“Last year’s job losses were a dramatic change of pace for the industry. In the three years leading up to 2020, for example, clean energy jobs grew almost four times as fast as overall employment,” the authors wrote.

Despite the setbacks, clean energy jobs rebounded quicker than the overall Midwest workforce, the report said, with noteworthy gains particularly in the area of electric vehicle and hybrid electric vehicles — a manufacturing sector that now employs about 65,212 workers.

“The Midwest can take advantage of the sector’s high job growth potential by enacting policies that support renewable energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicles,” the report says. 

“Policies such as Minnesota’s newly adopted clean car standards, Michigan’s goal of decarbonization by 2050, and Illinois’s proposed comprehensive clean energy legislation would help create tens of thousands of new jobs for decades as the region moves beyond the immediate recovery.”

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