When Donald Trump was running for president he talked a lot about putting people back to work. And one of the industries he focused on most was the coal industry. He even put on a hard hat and waved around a pick-axe to show how much he loved coal.
But there simply aren’t very many coal jobs to be had any more in the U.S. That’s not because of anything President Obama did. Coal jobs are decreasing because demand for coal is decreasing, and because machines now do much of the work.
In 1985 the coal industry employed over 178,000 miners. By 2016, it employed just 56,000.
By contrast, in 2016, wind and solar energy provided more than six times the number of jobs as coal. The trend is toward even more jobs in wind and solar, regardless of what Trump does.
Solar energy is exploding worldwide, an almost sixfold increase in just the last five years. But America ranks fifth in the production of solar energy, behind China, Germany, Japan and Italy.
If we really want to lead—if we really want to join the New Energy Economy—we have to go with the energy of the future, not the energy of the past. The other option—the one Donald Trump is proposing—leaves us following, not leading.
It’s our choice.
Robert Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All.