The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), passed in the US Congress and signed into law by President Biden in mid-August 2022, offers a significant amount of spending—$790 billion, to be exact—directed at climate and healthcare goals. Importantly, the bill is also poised to add upwards of nine million jobs in the US.
But what will those jobs be, exactly? The healthcare portion of the bill is largely directed at reducing the cost of care, with negotiated drug prices a primary (and welcome) result. It’s the climate and energy portions ($370 billion) that promise to generate employment. Anyone beginning a career or looking for a change would be wise to consider the possibilities—particularly if they’re interested in sustainability.
That’s because incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act strongly favor industries that build low-carbon energy sources (e.g., wind, solar, geothermal, biogas, and hydropower), as well the things that can and will use less energy (such as transportation and buildings). The resulting job opportunities will include operational, administrative, and executive roles in all aspects of the supply chain, across a variety of different industries.
Here are some of the most important opportunities to keep in mind:
Construction will see an uptick of approximately nine hundred thousand jobs given the need to build new facilities and retrofit homes and commercial structures (with tighter building envelopes and insulation, for example). Employers in these sectors will go begging—a tight supply of workers means higher wages for those with the appropriate skills—given the preexisting construction labor shortage (25 percent of construction positions are already unfilled) reported earlier in 2022.
Clean energy and auto manufacturing job openings will also hit about nine hundred thousand, according to the BlueGreen Alliance. This includes jobs focused on the production of wind turbines, solar panels, and the retooling of automotive factories to build electric vehicles (EVs) and EV components (e.g., batteries).
Farming and forestry will look for about 480,000 people to help sequester carbon through climate-friendly practices (including regenerative agriculture programs that support sustainable forestry) as well as to manage wildfires. The investment in this sector includes $18 billion to the USDA for various greenhouse gas reduction and sequestration programs via research and development. An additional fifty thousand jobs will be added to help coastal communities build storm protection and protect habitat for wildlife and commercial fisheries.
Electric vehicle manufacturing, while likely to involve hundreds of thousands of jobs, will shift existing manufacturing jobs over to the new, greener EVs. But the Inflation Reduction Act will also pull jobs from China with a new investment in US-made models. The bill strongly incentivizes US manufacturing of EVs (EV plants are currently located in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee).
Battery production is a (vexing) lynchpin in the EV revolution. The majority of battery manufacturing involves “critical minerals” such as lithium that are often mined and processed irresponsibly in various parts of the world. It’s an important look at how a green mindset can upend an industry and create jobs here at home.
Dr. Simon Jowitt, an associate professor of economic geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says about nine thousand people in Nevada are currently employed in lithium ion sector work—but that that number could grow substantially if and when battery production is pulled back from China to the US (a move that is strongly incentivized by the IRA). Processing lithium and manufacturing lithium-based products in the US would increase the mineral’s value by a factor of twenty.
Jowitt acknowledges that lithium mining is problematic, however. “The public needs to realize how vital mining is and accept it as part of life and part of meaningful climate change mitigation,” he says. “Recycling cannot meet increasing demand for metals, especially those like lithium and the rare earths which are hard to recycle and are not in very wide circulation. Demand increases for EVs mean that much more lithium is needed.”
He adds that waste slag from abandoned mines hold many critical minerals. Extracting from those wastes—while also cleaning up the piles—would be a win-win for environmental activists and businesses alike.
Niche industries like landscape architecture are also expected to see some job growth, though on somewhat smaller scale compared to the aforementioned industries. Still, even a few new opportunities can help drive a significant impact.