We Are What We Breathe: The Impacts of Air Pollution on Employment and Productivity

May 6, 2011
Employment & Wages, Energy & Climate


On balance, the April employment numbers showed modest improvement in the job market. According to the Labor Department, payroll employment increased for the seventh straight month, as employers added 244,000 jobs. However, the unemployment rate bounced back up to 9.0 percent, reversing the gains of the last few months and highlighting the continued fragility of the economic recovery.

Many factors affect America’s long-term employment and productivity, some more obviously than others. As noted in previous Hamilton Project papers, an educated workforce, technological innovation, and well-functioning infrastructure are important drivers of job growth. But another factor that impacts our health, and therefore our productivity, is the environment — more specifically, the air we breathe on a day-to-day basis.

In this month’s posting we examine the employment and productivity costs of air pollution, measuring its health effects on America’s workforce. We also continue our look at America’s “job gap,” or the number of jobs that the U.S. economy needs to create in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while also absorbing the 125,000 people who enter the labor force each month.


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