President Joe Biden took office on January 20, 2021, in the midst of several ongoing and interconnected crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and economic and racial inequality.
On that day, the U.S. was facing millions of cases of COVID-19, soaring unemployment rates, and an ever growing wage gap. At the same time, the pandemic was casting an even sharper focus on and exacerbating several crises we’d been dealing with for decades as a country: economic inequality, racial inequality, and climate change.
Two years later, on the day of President Biden’s second State of the Union—and halfway through his presidential term—how much progress have we made to address these crises?
The good news: Congress and President Biden have passed major landmark legislation that will dramatically address climate change as well as racial and economic inequality. In addition to significant executive action, we expect President Biden to tout three pieces of legislation in his State of the Union address: the CHIPS and Science Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and the Inflation Reduction Act. These bills will support and create millions of good union jobs, rebuild and modernize our infrastructure, revitalize domestic manufacturing, and make our planet, our workers, and our communities safer and healthier. We hope President Biden will talk about these significant accomplishments and the progress made as a nation in his address.
Here are the 5 things on our State of the Union bingo card:
1. “Union Jobs”: The latest jobs numbers indicate that the economy added over 500,000 jobs in January, and 12 million jobs have been created since President Biden took office. This is historic job growth under any standards. That being said, recent reporting also suggests that union density is on the decline. That’s in large part because under President Biden we’ve created so many new jobs—but not enough of them have been good union jobs. Thankfully, policies included in the new legislation will help reverse that trend—the BIL and Inflation Reduction Act are going to support and create millions of jobs. In fact, BGA analysis suggests the Inflation Reduction Act alone will create 9 million jobs over the next decade. And the legislation includes new, strong labor standards—for the first time in some sectors like clean energy—that will help ensure that new jobs created by these investments are as much as possible good union jobs. We’ve already seen announcements of this trend in the last few months—like the investment made by the Biden administration in EV battery manufacturer Ultium Cells LLC, which recently voted to unionize its plant in northeast Ohio with the United Auto Workers (UAW).
2. “Climate Action”: The impacts of climate change are all around us. The science is unambiguous that we have to get to net zero emissions by 2050 and ensure we are solidly on that path by 2030. As the economy rebounded back, we’ve seen a slight uptick in emissions. But similar to union density, President Biden’s actions are going to reverse that trend. The Inflation Reduction Act includes game-changing investments to finance clean energy projects, electric vehicle deployment, and other emissions-reducing projects all across the country. In fact, the bill is projected to reduce emissions by 31-44% by 2030.
3. “Rebuilding the Nation’s Infrastructure”: The most recent report card from the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the nation’s infrastructure a grade of “C-” in 2021. Since then, Congress and President Biden passed the BIL, a $1.2 trillion investment in repairing and modernizing the nation’s infrastructure that was signed into law on November 15, 2021. The BIL takes important and long-overdue steps to rebuild and modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure—from water and schools, to transportation and energy infrastructure. You can find out more about this bill in our User Guide.
4. “Clean U.S. Manufacturing” and extra bonus points for “Buy Clean”: Our manufacturing sector took a major hit during the pandemic and the sad state of our domestic supply chain was made clear. Unfortunately, our manufacturing base has been hurting since long before the pandemic. The nation has lost nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs since 1997. The industrial sector is also a growing source of emissions globally and within the U.S. Thankfully, President Biden has made addressing this a cornerstone of his administration and has focused on delivering a major reinvestment in transforming heavy industry and retooling to build more of the products, materials, and technologies of the future here in the U.S. This will reduce emissions while providing pathways to good union jobs and strong domestic supply chains. In particular, the Inflation Reduction Act makes the largest ever investment in U.S. manufacturing of clean energy technologies, including wind, solar, batteries, electric vehicles, and more. It also includes major investments to modernize our energy-intensive industrial sector in support of good jobs, clean air, and a reduction in industrial emissions. The CHIPS and Science Act will also be significant here, especially in boosting domestic semiconductor production.
The Biden administration has also taken executive action to ensure that products and materials that are used for public projects like infrastructure improvements are the cleanest and most sustainable available. On December 8, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14057 to launch a federal Buy Clean initiative. Buy Clean policies help ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly, on materials that are manufactured in a cleaner, more efficient, environmentally-friendly manner—reducing pollution and the negative health impacts that go along with it while supporting good jobs across our nation.
5. “Environmental Justice and Equity”: Tackling climate change has to go hand in hand with ensuring that all workers and communities have access to clean air and water and communities are safe, clean, and free of hazardous chemicals and toxic pollution. Generations of economic and racial inequality have disproportionately exposed low-income workers, communities of color, and others to low wages, toxic pollution, and climate threats. President Biden and his administration have put in place policies aimed at injecting justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities. This includes the industries and communities that are most likely to be impacted by the effects of climate change and the transition to a clean economy. In addition to regulatory action to protect clean water and community and worker safety, President Biden has advanced programs like “Justice40” and policies in the Inflation Reduction Act that will prioritize and drive investments into disadvantaged communities. Multiple programs across these bills will also support increased resilience to the impacts of climate change.
All in all, what all of this fundamentally boils down to—and what we hope he’ll talk about in his speech—is how the government is making people’s lives better. All of these wonky policy details are not abstract. They’re going to make a difference—creating jobs in our communities, improving our access to clean water, making us safer as we travel to work or school or to have fun with our friends and family. Hopefully that will be the message of the State of the Union; that as a nation, we are heading in the right direction.
Of course, none of this means we no longer have work to do. While historical progress has been made, much work remains to ensure we achieve a stable climate and a more equitable economy in the long run. That starts with getting implementation of these pieces of legislation right—making sure they deliver on the promise and truly maximize benefits for workers, communities, and the climate. We also have to ensure that the investments truly reverse the trend for communities historically left behind and fundamentally improve the equitable distribution of federal funding. We have to make sure this moment translates into a stronger public sector and increased resilience in our communities. And we have to make sure workers rights are protected through all of this. President Biden should stand by a commitment to see these goals through the finish line.
We hope we get to shout “bingo!” tonight and look forward to hearing his speech.