By Andrea Shalal
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) -Daemein Hargrove, 21, recently dropped plans for a four-year college degree to sign up for an apprenticeship program in Las Vegas that he says has given him higher pay, good medical benefits and a pension.
It was made possible by a surge in solar investment fueled by U.S. President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which helped spark some $110 billion in new clean energy projects since it passed a year ago.
Hargrove says the job and his membership in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union have enabled him and his wife to move into an apartment. They’re now starting to think seriously about buying a home and starting a family.
“There have been a lot of good things over the last couple of months, at least for me,” Hargrove told Reuters. But he’s also shouldering gas costs of $500 a month as he commutes to a massive solar site 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas.
He’s not sure he’ll vote in 2024, when Biden is up for re-election, he said.
“To me, it just feels like it’s out of my control,” he said, speaking about U.S. politics in general.
As the 2024 election season draws closer, Biden and his team are traveling the United States to talk about the recession-defying economy, and the impact of the president’s clean energy tax breaks, union support and infrastructure investment. They’re studiously ignoring a growing list of indictments against former president and chief rival, Republican Donald Trump.
Even as Americans like Hargrove feel the benefits, it’s not clear this approach will deliver Biden the votes he needs in 2024. Many 2020 Biden voters say the economy is worse than it was then, or that they have not heard of Biden and Democrats’ big investment bills at all, recent Reuters polling shows.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s visit Monday to the Las Vegas training center where Hargrove and nearly 700 other apprentices are being paid to work and learn new skills raises some questions about Biden’s approach.
Yellen’s trip to Las Vegas won praise from union leaders, but drew scant public or local media attention. The swing state of Nevada, with the country’s highest unemployment rate at 5.4%, helped secure Democrats’ 2020 win, and could be crucial to 2024, political strategists say.
The local NBC affiliate covered Yellen’s speech at the IBEW union hall, but the segment aired near the end of the station’s evening broadcast, well behind items on local schools and the weather. Local newspapers covered Yellen’s remarks, but didn’t feature the speech predominantly.
Casey Harrison, a political reporter at the Las Vegas Sun, said the coverage reflected a lack of demand but also inadequate preparation by the administration.
“I don’t think the administration is doing enough to come out to swing states like this,” Harrison said. “When they do come here … they give you like 12-24 hours notice, and then they’re in and out. So it’s not like we’ve had a great chance to be, like, truly embedded.”
A U.S. Treasury official pointed Reuters to coverage of Yellen’s speech in local television, radio and newspapers, before and after her visit.
Harrison said other Cabinet members – including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland – had also stopped in Las Vegas, but the script was often the same: “We might see them for like a half hour and then they’ll have an availability, but it’s not like they would just spend the whole day with us anything like that.”
Yellen, asked about persistent low polling numbers for Biden and his stewardship of the economy, said a large and growing share of Americans felt good about their personal situation, even if they gave the overall economy bad grades.
“Americans have been through a lot over the last two or three years, the pandemic, higher inflation,” she told reporters. “And it’s important to explain to Americans what’s happened, that this is really great for the future and things are really, really happening.”
Large initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act can often take years to be felt and accepted by voters. According to KFF polling, it took seven years for more Americans to approve than disapprove of former President Barack Obama’s 2010 signature healthcare reform Obamacare.
However, with inflation and the unemployment rate both dropping below 4%, voter sentiment about the economy may become more favorable to Biden in the 14 months until the election.
Rachelle Warren, 42, a former stay-at-home mom who is also an apprentice at the electrical training center, is grateful to have landed the job and remains upbeat about her own family’s future.
“I don’t think Biden’s doing a bad job. I think every president in their first four years especially is fixing a lot, trying to undo things that were done, and he had a lot to undo,” Warren said. She plans to vote for Biden, again, she said.
But she says the impact of living costs, including expensive childcare and grocery bills that have doubled, take its toll.
“It’s a little more stressful, trying to keep up with everything. It’s just the cost. It’s making it harder for people to be able to afford it. So therefore, just the joy I think gets depleted a little bit.”
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)