the (new) american worker

Cash for Caulkers: Not Exactly a Done Deal

With a healthy 346-68 lead, the House passed yesterday the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, a bill that offers tax incentives for investment in home energy efficiency, with the hopes of creating scores of new auditing and construction jobs. Of course, with the passage of a bill now humorously termed “Cash for Caulkers,” the usual flood of celebratory DC press releases flooded the wires.

Beyond the press release: Unless DC Democrats can make the budget cuts required by Republican support of the new Home Star jobs bill, the "Cash for Caulkers" program is just an empty promise.

From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office: “The legislation will create nearly 168,000 jobs in construction, manufacturing, and retail – some of the hardest hit sectors during the Bush recession.” (LOL, the “Bush recession” – kudos to the communications officers for that one).

From Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA): “I am pleased that this legislation will incentivize targeted job training and financial assistance for low-income communities and the chronically unemployed.”

Woo! What a great bill, right? Creating good jobs for American workers building energy efficient infrastructure, WHILST trimming back tax burdens. Um, well kind of – as Atlantic Journal Constitution blogger Jamie Dupree notes, Democrats actually turned against this bill in early voting, in protest of a Republican “Deficit Neutrality” motion. This motion essentially mandated that the costs of the “Cash for Caulkers” program be offset by new revenues or cutbacks elsewhere to come into effect. Without cuts or new revenue creation, it will, in effect, be a nothing bill. After some wrangling, Democrats voted with the motion, meaning they have some work to do before any of those promised jobs can be created. Of course, with the House passage,  the Senate now faces a similar challenge.

In my opinion, politicians need to get to work on this issue – and fast. After all, these jobs aren’t handouts – they are in high demand. Even before the dangling of tax credits, it has been clear Americans want to improve their homes. I recall an article in the Atlantic a few months back that followed the training of two brothers as energy auditors – one a former real estate broker psyched for the huge demand for his new-found talents. In light of this promise, let’s hope Washington can get it together and find a place – with some real meaning behind it  – for the Cash for Caulkers program.


Obama Uses Energy Workers At Their Desks to Frame (Literally) Jobs Remarks
March 6, 2010, 1:39 am
Filed under: jobs | Tags: , , ,

As a former student of electoral politics – and current student of energy economy – President Obama’s press conference at OPower, an Arlington, VA-based energy efficiency consultancy, last Friday caught my eye for two reasons.

President Obama pitched pieces of his jobs bill Friday standing in the office of OPower, a VA-based energy efficiency consultancy.

First, Obama delivered his remarks right in the middle of the OPower office, with OPower workers literally just standing at their desks to hear the President speak. Stepping up to a simple podium set in the middle of the room, Obama launched into his brief speech with a casual aside:

“Just looking around the room, this looks like a fun place to work,” he said, naturally drawing polite laughter. (When the POTUS gives a speech 10 feet from your desk, you laugh at his jokes.)

Visually, it was highly evocative of Obama’s message to put Americans to work at innovative companies like OPower. I liked it. No doubt, some politcal hand got a nice pat on the back for setting up that shot.

Second, the President delivered this speech on the heels of a weekly data report that found the economy lost 36,000 jobs for the final week of February – less than anticipated, but still bleak. Sticking to his message of the past couple months, the President eagerly emphasized the growth potential of companies like OPower. He claimed that the consultancy “doubled its workforce last year,” and “hopes to add another 100 workers this year.” He then touted his plan to offer a $5,000 tax credit for each additional hire companies make – a point he emphasized by bidding up, auctioneer style, OPower’s planned number of new hires, from “110…115…we’ll see,” to OPower CEO Daniel Yates standing off camera.

100 new workers at one firm in Virginia in one year – if OPower’s claims are valid, that would be a pretty rapid infusion to the workforce. I think this makes an important point. While large-scale projects like nuclear can provide good, high-paying jobs, the numbers I have seen for these massive projects cap at about a few thousand new workers. Energy beliefs aside, I think the combination of start-up psychology, (hopefully) significant growth potential and overall agility makes companies like OPower all the more powerful for development of the American workforce and human capital.

–Mia Lamar