The Energy Industry’s Role in America’s Economy

Affordable and reliable electricity is the heartbeat of the American economy, and is essential to our nation’s economic growth.

June 2018

Last summer, the American Public Power Association and the Edison Electric Institute released a joint report, Powering America: The Economic and Workforce Contributions of the Electric Power Industry. The report concluded that this industry directly employs 2.7 million people, including staff, contractors and supply-chain workers.

But the economic impact reaches far beyond that. The market impact of the electrical industry ultimately supports more than 7 million jobs, one of every 20 jobs across the United States, and contributes $880 billion to the national economy.

“Affordable and reliable electricity is the heartbeat of the American economy, and is essential to our nation’s economic growth,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “As not-for-profits owned by the members we serve, our broader purpose is to empower local communities to thrive. Co-ops are proud to continue recruiting top-tier talent from local communities as we work to meet tomorrow’s energy needs.”

The power industry’s ongoing efforts to keep pace with customers’ changing needs and expectations have benefited the economy. Each year, electric utilities spend more than $135 billion on infrastructure, more than twice the level of investment as compared to a decade ago.

Paul Allen, senior vice president of M.J. Bradley & Associates, the firm that analyzed the data, said the Powering America study is “the most comprehensive report ever done on the full dimension of jobs and employment and the broad economic impact of the electric power industry.”

Until now, said Allen, no report had quantified “what we might think of as the first 5 percent of the American economy. Virtually every other sector of the economy depends to a significant degree on the safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable provision of electricity … and the women and men of the electric industry who make that happen.”

Another bright spot in the report highlights the industry’s commitment to hiring military veterans. In 2014, more than 10 percent of new hires in the sector came from the armed services. “These jobs make a difference because a disproportionate number of veterans come from rural America,” said Michelle Rostom, NRECA’s director of workforce development and coordinator of the association’s Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country, a veterans hiring initiative detailed at Census data show more than 40 percent of military recruits have rural roots.

“It’s a large population that historically has had difficulty finding work when they return,” said Rostom. “We owe our veterans the opportunity to transition into engaging civilian jobs with great benefits, giving them good work in their local community.”

Co-ops currently participating in the Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country initiative employ more than 400 vets as lineworkers, cybersecurity professionals, accountants and other positions. Consider how you might help promote awareness of energy jobs and the resource they can provide for those who served in our nation’s military. 

Victoria Rocha writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Virginia-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.