PHILADELPHIA -- The success of the Obama administration won't be measured by gross domestic product alone but by whether the middle class grows as the United States digs its way out of the recession, Vice President Joe Biden said here today.
But the new economic stimulus bill could do even more by creating tens of thousands of "green" jobs, lowering energy costs and mitigating climate change, Biden said at a University of Pennsylvania forum that marked the inaugural meeting of the White House Task Force on Middle-Class Working Families.
"We're making an unprecedented investment in the recovery of this country and green jobs -- tens of thousands of jobs that are not exportable; they're all American jobs," said Biden, who added that such jobs would include everything from retrofitting inefficient buildings to installing solar panels on rooftops.
By the administration's estimate, the $787 billion stimulus will save or create 3.5 million jobs. The legislation contains about $43 billion for direct energy and efficiency programs, as well as $11 billion to build a more efficient, "smart" electricity grid.
So-called green jobs pay 10 percent to 20 percent more than other jobs and are more likely to be union jobs, Biden said, citing Council of Economic Advisers data. Indeed, Obama gave unions a boost earlier this month with an executive order that requires labor agreements for large construction projects, such as building weatherization and efficiency upgrades (Greenwire, Feb. 6).
In an address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Obama said he also wants to tackle climate change by placing a mandatory cap on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp, who joined Biden here, said a carbon cap would help more than 1,200 companies in manufacturing-rich states grow their businesses and create jobs.
"A cap creates customers for U.S. manufacturers, and new customers mean new jobs," explained Krupp, whose advocacy group today launched a Web site, lesscarbonmorejobs.org, aimed at identifying potential beneficiaries of a carbon cap in 12 states.
In an interview earlier this week, former President Bill Clinton contended that the stimulus -- and a potential carbon cap -- could spur the fastest growth among companies that produce renewable energy equipment and offer products and services that help the commercial and residential sectors reduce electricity consumption.
"If you want the immediate gains in greenhouse gas reductions, move aggressively on the conservation front," Clinton said. "You'll be creating the jobs now."
Every $1 billion invested would create 3,400 jobs building and installing wind turbines, Clinton said. An equivalent investment in coal-fired plants would generate just 900 jobs.
Scholars with both the liberal Center for American Progress and the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who have developed their own multiplier formulas, contend that renewable energy projects are generally more labor-intensive than fossil fuel projects.
Energy efficiency efforts touted
Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who joined Biden in Philadelphia, said their agencies will coordinate federal weatherization efforts and allocate $16 billion of the stimulus to retrofit homes. The agencies will also develop energy financing products for homeowners and a baseline for measuring efficiency.
Building a standardized energy efficiency market for the housing sector will lower utility costs for consumers and create jobs, such as energy auditors, which are in increasing demand, Chu said.
"We don't have enough of those people to go into American homes and tell people how to wisely use their energy," Chu added.
As the government spends the stimulus cash, a federal funding package unprecedented in its size, the White House task force will meet monthly to explore retirement income, education and other issues that affect the middle class, Biden said. The task force's job will be demonstrating how the administration is putting so many taxpayer dollars to work.
"We want to figure out how we can responsibly and transparently move an awesome amount of funds to turn this economy around," Biden said. "This is a big job. This has never, ever, ever been done before on this scale."
The Commerce Department reported today that real gross domestic product shrank 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, a faster rate than the agency estimated initially. Real GDP -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property within the nation's borders -- decreased 0.5 percent in the third quarter.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said he hoped many green jobs would be created in Philadelphia, a city that has seen its share of big factories, organized unions and hard times.
"We can dig out of this ditch," Casey said. "It will take a while, but we will do it."
Senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn contributed.