Rebuilding the tool belt economy

Energy efficiency retrofits can provide a real help for construction unemployment explains CAP’s Bracken Hendricks, who was the founding Executive Director of the Apollo Alliance, in this repost.

Yesterday President Barack Obama announced details of his proposed $6 billion energy efficiency rebate program, known as Home Star, at Savannah Technical College in Georgia. Informally known as “Cash for Caulkers,” the Home Star program would provide immediate rebates of up to $3000 to homeowners who invest in making their homes more energy efficient. President Obama described how Home Star helps Americans on several fronts:

Now, we know this will save families as much as several hundred dollars on their utilities. We know it will make our economy less dependent on fossil fuels, helping to protect the planet for future generations. But I want to emphasize that Home Star will also create business and spur hiring up and down the economy.

Construction job lossesWith unemployment in the construction industry at almost 25 percent, it is imperative that the Obama Administration implement innovative, effective programs to spur job creation in what has been termed the tool-belt recession. The tool-belt recession has a deep and far-reaching impact on communities. Construction job losses touch every state in the union and hit local economies hard, spilling over to other parts of the economy as well. Job loss in manufacturing industries tied to construction is higher than in manufacturing as a whole. Many construction related industries have shed 20 percent to 30 percent of their jobs since the recession began. Jobs in the construction sector and related industries are suffering more compared to other parts of the economy. It is time for a national response to this tool belt recession. Here are some of the numbers:

  • The unemployment rate for experienced workers in construction was 24.7 percent in January 2010.
  • Total construction payroll employment has dropped by 2.1 million jobs since 2006, with residential construction down by 1.3 million, or 38 percent.
  • For 2009, 12.4 percent of all unemployed workers were previously employed in the construction industry.
  • There have been 134,000 jobs lost (10 percent) in construction-related retail, such as building supply stores and lumber yards, since December 2007, with 186,000 lost (14 percent) since July 2006.

With demand for construction jobs at near depression levels, stimulating consumer demand for residential energy efficiency is a smart business. It creates high-paying jobs for idled construction workers, boosts sales of American-made building materials, and saves consumers money. American companies are ready to hire back crews if we can jumpstart demand for projects. Home performance contracting for energy efficiency is one bright spot on the horizon for the building trades today.

Matt Golden, CEO of home performance retrofit contractor Recurve, and co-author of our study explains:

The tool belt recession is devastating. There is an urgent need in every state of the union to generate skilled, high-paying, long-term construction and manufacturing jobs to grow our economy. But there is hope. As an employer in the hard-hit state of California, I have seen my efficiency business grow by 60 percent, even as the construction industry has lost over 35 percent of construction jobs, around me.

It’s time to launch a national Home Star program which includes incentives for homebuyers to invest in the energy efficiency of their homes, which will jumpstart demand for labor. Congress can quickly create jobs with policies to expand investment in commercial and industrial energy efficiency and financing for retrofit jobs.

Read the whole memo about taking on the tool belt recession here.

8 Responses to Rebuilding the tool belt economy

  1. fj2 says:

    Besides the jobs, energy savings, boosts to the economy, etc. many buildings with energy retrofits simply work a lot better creating a win, win, win arrangement.

    Gives some indication on how to move to an economy and society where people have decent incomes with a lower cost-of-living based on commonsense and reductions in waste.

  2. Andy Bauer says:

    Great post.

    The CT Energy Efficiency Fund’s Home Energy Solutions program ( is an example of the proposed Home Star program on a state level.

    It should be stressed that the savings are each year, every year.

    When the program started several years ago, there were maybe two (?) companies that did this, now there are over a dozen. One outfit in particular started two years ago and is now up to 40 employees.

    Less than 1% of the homes in CT have been done. The potential for job creation, savings in fuels and dollars, and reductions in emissions is huge.

  3. prokaryote says:

    I think the most importend factor in coming years is energy security.
    Old energy infrastructure is just not capable to cope with the increase of destruction.
    Add some energy to grid solution and your nation is a lot more stable, even under ruff conditions and in harmony with the electromobile.

    Coal, fossil energy ĉompanys should adopt this solution and start invest into renewable energy sources. Florida just went with a hybrid facility.

    Clean Energy Updates Take Power Plant for a Spin
    By David Bois | Sunday, March 7, 2010 10:08 AM ET
    Yup, it’s a hybrid. But since it’s anchored in place, the only place that it can take us is into promising new territory in industrial scale power generation.

    Next step, morph the fossil plant into a bio-energy facility – with biomass to biochar aim. Pyrolyse organic materials and gain:

    Biochar a powerful fertilizer and carbon sink. By products are ie. bio-oil.

    Reduce organic waste
    More sustainable agriculture
    Enhanced soil, ie. better prepared flood/drought conditions with biochar enhanced soils.
    Adds to food security
    Carbon sink

    Turn waste into money so to speak.

  4. Mike says:

    I live in Southern Illinois. It is coal country. But this is also the trailer park capital of America. Did I mention we have lot’s of tornadoes? I’d like to see a program to replace trailers with low cost energy efficient homes. This could be a stimulus program or perhaps part of a C&T system in which coal power plants – of which we have plenty – could fund such conversions in exchange for carbon offsets.

    However, in the long run, since smaller houses use less energy, high energy cost will mean small houses and fewer construction jobs.

  5. fj2 says:

    4. Mike, ” . . . program to replace trailers with low cost energy efficient homes.”

    Better yet, teach people to build their own homes. They’d save a fortune and build them the way they want; work better with minimal maintenance etc.; with bragging rights.

    Think about passive solar, super insulation, environmental protection (wind and sun) from trees, etc., before solar energy machines such as concentrated solar and photovoltaic.

  6. Leif says:

    However, in the long run, since smaller houses use less energy, high energy cost will mean small houses and fewer construction jobs.

    However if society were to index energy costs with all social services, including defense, universal health care, the whole shebang, all other taxes could be removed. No more deficit spending. Note GOP.) By implementing point of use sustainable energy production options people could have a “cash cow” in their yard or on their roof. The 40 hour work week could be cut in half or less. Many rural folks could drop out of the labor market completely and subsist on cottage industry or organic food production. Save money on efficiency in health providing, (better food and exercise), defense, (no war) etc. the cost of energy comes down. High energy consumers would be a asset to society as opposed to Carbon Stomp determent that leaves the working stiff to mitigate. The SUN would pay for all!

  7. fj2 says:

    An, interesting article from New Scientist 20 February 2010 page 35:

    Bright lights, bug city
    Insect architects could help us build the eco-cities of the future
    says Philip Ball

    “In the heart of Africa’s savannah lies a city that is a model of sustainable development. Its buttressed towers are built entirely of natural, biodegradable materials. Its inhabitants live and work in quarters that are air-conditioned and humidity-regulated, without consuming a single watt of electricity. Water comes from wells that dip deep into the earth, and food is cultivated self-sufficiently in gardens within its walls. This metropolis is not just eco-friendly: with is curved walls and graceful arches, it is rather beautiful too.

    “This is no human city, of course. It is a termite mound.”

  8. CJ says:

    There is tremendous opportunity in this realm for the dual objectives of employment and energy conservation. Plus there is the bonus of improved quality of life. I just rebuilt the envelope of my home, a tract house built 50 years ago in Santa Fe NM.
    I added 50% to the square footage and a new high efficiency furnace. I replaced windows and doors, added 4″ of foam to the exterior walls and an R-40 foam roof. Last month was the first full month using a programed thermostat. I used 45% less gas than in any comparable month in the last 6 years. I heated the entire house to a comfort level never before achieved.
    This is all blue collar work so there is no effective lobbying to promote this type of project. It is viable in most cities around the country where there are older houses and good neighborhoods.