On February 17, 2009, less than one month into their first term, President Obama and Vice President Biden flew to Colorado to sign their $787 billion stimulus package into law. They moved the signing venue from D.C. to Denver to emphasize the green-jobs provisions of the legislation.
Appropriating the plight of the downtrodden and disadvantaged is an old tradition in D.C. As vice president, Biden helped spin the Democrats’ stimulus package as a green-jobs creator. Today, as a candidate, he peppers his multitrillion-dollar climate script with environmental justice. Same plot. Same actors. New title.
The sad irony is that instead of a blockbuster hit, the original was a bust. The 2009 stimulus was a failure in the green-jobs department, but it was a great success in shoveling billions to the powerful and well-connected.
A series of reports issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and by the Department of Labor’s inspector general exposed the green jobs fraud.
Even with a pathetically low bar, the much-touted job-training programs fell far short of their goals. Forty-seven percent of those completing the green jobs program had five or fewer days of training and 20 percent of all certificates and degrees were awarded to trainees with no more than one day of training. The program only met 40 percent of its target for job placement, even though more than a third of those who got jobs after the program had jobs before they started.
The lackluster growth in green employment led to a comically desperate redefinition of green jobs. The largest green-jobs category was “janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners.” In addition, the septic tank and portable toilet servicing industry had 33 times as many “green” jobs as did solar electricity utilities. At a June 6, 2012 hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa forced the acting commission of the BLS to confirm that a list of jobs with dubious greenness counted as green — including oil-industry lobbyists. Even including these ludicrous versions of “green,” the new green-job creation never came close to the five million promised in February 2009.
So where did all that stimulus funding go? Economist John Lott followed the money. He found that states with higher per-capita incomes received a larger share of the money as did states that provided the Obama-Biden ticket with a larger share of votes.
Further, in case after case, well-capitalized and well-connected corporations (like Chevron, Google, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, BP) received billions of dollars in grants and loan guarantees (see here, here, and here).
Biden’s environmental-justice smoke screen is yet another cynical hijacking of minority grievances to promote an elite agenda. We know forcing green policies on consumers significantly increases energy prices, which disproportionately impact poorer people.
The green-energy penalty was especially noticeable in Colorado, where electricity prices rose nearly twice as fast as inflation from 2000 to 2014. Further, stifling economic growth (which climate programs will do) condemns disadvantaged groups to extended poverty. Compare this to the impact of cutting taxes and red tape by the Trump administration. Until the COVID crisis, minority unemployment was at record low levels and wages at the bottom finally grew faster than average.
Those in D.C. know, regardless of the high-minded findings and preambles in the legislation that creates them, big-ticket federal programs are primarily employment plans for those with advanced degrees. They create more and more layers of GS-15 bureaucrats plus more and more contract opportunities for Beltway bandits. If the poor and powerless were able to win the political battles for the outsized federal expenditures of the past half century, then their wages and income would balloon as well. That didn’t happen. Instead, we find that nine of the richest 20 counties in the U.S. surround the District of Columbia. In other words, the richest 1% of counties are dominated by D.C. suburbs. Big government programs enrich the people who run big government programs. We should not pretend otherwise.
Economic freedom powered by our growing energy dominance has proven to be the best anti-poverty program ever. Biden’s plan, with its bizarrely nostalgic echo of programs from the Great Depression, moves the country and its hardworking people in the exact wrong direction.
David Kreutzer, Ph.D., is a senior economist at the Institute for Energy Research in Washington, D.C.