Where are the jobs?

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Recent interactions with individuals produced a shocking reminder of how hard it is to find a good job. One man in his early 30s was out of work when his father’s business lost its customers. He subsequently secured training as a fireman and EMT, but is still without work.

A recent graduate of the University of Illinois, burdened with debt, is unable to find work. A 20-year employee of a social agency lost his job but found similar work at half the pay.

A 50-year-old worker angered by the loss of manufacturing jobs wants to elect political leaders who will undo the damage from NAFTA and fears additional job losses coming from the pending passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership. He wants to stop spending taxpayer money saving other countries while ignoring the suffering in our country.

A retired individual recalls that in the early 1960s, his employer relocated his manufacturing plant to Japan partially to break the power of unionized labor. He questions whether we remain a sovereign nation, as our government appears to only serve the interests of multinational corporations.

One bright spot has been increased employment in green technology industries. It has been estimated that the U.S. wind industry has about 75,000 people employed with more than 500 manufacturing facilities in operation. The Solar Foundation reports more than 142,000 workers were employed at the end of 2013, with 23,000 of them being added that year.

After being laid off, Edward Caceres decided to start his own business, and together with a partner, created Nazca Energy in Rockford. His firm is named after the ancient culture that produced enormous geoglyphs as white-line drawings of animals in the desert 230 miles south of Lima, Peru.

While he took courses from many sources, including the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, it was as a student at Rockford University where he developed a business plan in which he targeted the installation of LED lighting as an area of opportunity. The successful firm has yet to grow to the size where he can employ others, but he has provided some interns with experience.

He also formed a firm in his home country of Peru and has targeted rural areas for wind, solar and LED lighting projects. He envisions developing a factory to assemble LED lighting fixtures there.

While Nazca Energy has carved out an economic niche, the overall jobs picture remains cloudy. Influential economists Paul Krugman and Larry Summers believe the U.S. faces a future of economic stagnation with slow growth, high unemployment and low wages.

A recent Oxford study predicted that 47 percent of all jobs will be automated by 2034 and that no government is prepared for the dramatic social changes that will follow. Some economists are calling for a federal program similar to what occurred during the Great Depression of the1930s. Without such an effort, social upheaval followed by government suppression is feared.

Fossil fuel interests are more optimistic about our economy, believing the presence of cheap natural gas, along with increased supplies of oil, will bring the return of manufacturing and prosperity to our country. Ignored in their optimism is the environmental degradation associated with those industries.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Feb. 19-25, 2014, issue

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