For years, we’ve been hearing about the decline of the middle class, especially among our communities of color. It is happening across America, including in Colorado.
Not long ago, you could graduate from high school and get a good-paying job in Colorado, buy a house, and raise a family. But over the years, the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs has significantly deteriorated the path to the middle class for many.
But we have an option to regain our manufacturing prowess and strengthen our middle class once again: home-grown energy.
The American energy renaissance in Colorado — from the plains of Weld County to the Piceance Basin of the Western Slope — is transforming our global economy.
The increase in domestic production of oil and gas is not only making it cheaper to fuel your car and heat your home, but it’s also reducing the costs of manufacturing in the U.S. In fact, thanks to technological advancements in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, it’s now 10 to 20 percent cheaper to manufacture in the U.S. than in major European economies, according to the Boston Consultancy Group (BCG).
That’s a staggering number. Even more amazing, BCG projects that by 2018, it will be up to 3 percent cheaper to make products here than in China.
That point cannot be underscored enough: We can finally replace “Made in China” with “Made in the USA.”
And even better for Colorado, which has the lowest energy costs per month of any state, according to WalletHub. Only the District of Columbia is lower.
This new wave of domestic energy production is an opportunity to change our economic trajectory. It’s time for more businesses to invest in America again and for entrepreneurs to feel comfortable in launching new businesses here.
Colorado’s proud history of safe and environmentally sound oil and gas production, as well as manufacturing, makes it the perfect place to make that happen in a way that will benefit and grow the middle class and return it to its rightful place as the foundation of our economy.
A PBS iNews Network report released two years ago, “Losing Ground,” detailed how a loss of manufacturing jobs has hurt Colorado, particularly African-Americans and Latinos. In the late 1960s, Pueblo’s CF&I steel plant supported southern Colorado’s economy with more than 13,000 jobs.
Manufacturing companies primarily employed blue-collar workers who sometimes lacked a high school diploma, yet paid $60,000 to $70,000 salaries. Employment as a steel worker or welder was more accessible to Colorado’s workers of color than other occupations. As a result, they were able to join the middle class and enjoy the financial security that comes with it.
By the 1970s, one in four Latino workers in Colorado held manufacturing jobs, with the manufacturing sector accounting for 14 percent of all jobs in Colorado. This path to middle-class prosperity helped Colorado rank as one of the most equitable states by most measures of social progress during the Civil Rights era.
In the years since, Colorado fell dramatically behind other states by these same measures. According to the PBS report, African-American and Latino children of former manufacturer workers are less able to attain the same standard of living as their parents. In 2013, manufacturing jobs accounted for only 7 percent of the state’s total. In Pueblo, only one in 10 Latinos currently hold a manufacturing job.
The loss of thousands of Colorado’s good paying manufacturing jobs — from companies like Pueblo’s CF&I Steel, Denver’s Gates Rubber Co., Montbello’s Samsonite Corp. — hurt families of color disproportionately, and now we all battle with the consequences.
But there is a way to turn this around. A 2011 PwC study concluded that U.S. manufacturing companies could employ 1 million more workers by 2025 due to the benefits from affordable energy and demand for the products used in natural gas extraction. Cultivating oil and gas resources in Colorado will expand the manufacturing sector and reopen routes to middle-class prosperity. A manufacturing renaissance could fuel an increase in socioeconomic equality throughout our communities.
If we want to do more than just talk — and actually create a true revival of the middle class and achieve economic equality — we need to stop sacrificing the ability to regain this lost ground by working against oil and gas development. Let’s move away from the simple indifference and myopic view of our neighborhood that led us down this path and embrace the resurgence of manufacturing jobs through oil and gas development.
This is not about just oil and gas development, but about what that development — and the products it produces — brings to every part of this state. If you truly are concerned about the middle class, it’s foolhardy to ban fracking and oil and gas development. Every ban and over-reaching regulation takes away this opportunity and only bans good-paying manufacturing jobs that rely on Colorado oil and gas.
We should embrace Colorado’s responsible energy development as a commitment to truly begin to make progress toward economic equality and prosperity for all Coloradans.
SOURCE: Denver Post