American Passion. With union support, the Democratic president, who is seeking a second term, is betting on apprenticeships and the promise of green jobs to bolster his popularity with white, less-educated workers, says political scientist Marie-Cécile Naves.
The American economy continues to create jobs, including 336,000 in September, a record since January 2023, with an unemployment rate that has remained stable at under 4% for nearly two years. It is not just industry that has benefited the most in the short term, but also the service, leisure, health care and education sectors. The health of the American labor market despite the fact that inflation is slowing demand which in turn limits hiring, allows workers to command higher wages and better working conditions.
As the first president to join a picket line in late September in Michigan alongside automotive union representatives, Joe Biden, who has built a large part of his political career on his negotiation skills, has, since his election, continually reiterated his support for labor unions. This marks a major difference from Donald Trump, his predecessor and main rival in the 2024 election, someone who sees organized associations as a threat.
If the president’s capacity for action on the economy is often underestimated since it is contingent upon many and often international factors, the momentum created by the political choices of the executive branch and bills that have passed are having an effect on the confidence of business leaders, investors and workers — all of whom are also voters.
Promoting the Employment of Unskilled and Low-Skilled Workers
The next presidential election could again come down to a few thousand votes in a handful of states where election sociology reveals a gap between rural areas deprived of future economic activity on one side and big cities and their residential suburbs on the other.
College degrees and gender make up two other strong markers of Republican or Democratic voting, where abstention rates among non-college educated voters and the poor are higher, though the two groups cannot be combined.
But Biden is seeking to boost his popularity among white males without college degrees, which is why bills that promote the employment of unskilled and low-skilled workers contained in major economic reforms since 2021 have made this group a prime target, though it is certainly not the only one. Biden is also seeking to lower student debt, a major hindrance to growth in the country, thus focusing on lifelong learning.
Combining coursework with remuneration, apprenticeship is key to meeting the need for skilled labor in construction and the restoration of roads and bridges enacted through the infrastructure bill, in the major plan for green energy via the Inflation Reduction Act, and in connection with new generations of semiconductors in the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act, known as the CHIPS.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies have been made available for apprenticeships, coupled with private investment. For instance, the transformation of the American vehicle fleet in favor of electric cars, with a goal of reaching two-thirds of new electric cars by 2032, versus barely 6% today, faces the dual challenge of a lack of trained workers and the still embryonic influence of labor unions in this sector to defend employee interests.
Recognizing the Value of Industrial Jobs
Communication is a huge challenge for the Democrats. They need to convince voters that these recently passed laws have the potential to create millions of manufacturing and green energy jobs in the long term. Conversely, this transformation of production is a major condition for achieving the Biden administration’s ecological objectives. However, so far, we can find green jobs primarilyin the white collar sector (software, sales, marketing, etc.).
It will take time to accelerate or, in some regions, even produce the virtuous circle. And it is well known that the political season is not the time for reform. In addition to a social gap, there is a generation gap, with the challenge of training workers over the age of 40. Today, for example, fewer than 1% of those leaving a dirty job, the term used to designate jobs dealing in the extraction of fossil fuels, find one in green energy.
In closing, it is clear that the economic and cultural questions are inextricably linked. This is not, in fact, solely about creating or sustaining jobs; it is also a matter of recognizing the value of industrial and manual labor in an American society that promotes, in the face of increased global competition, “Buy American.” And the current president is well aware of this.