Why There Aren't More Green Jobs

Why There Aren't More Green Jobs

One of my loyal readers was kind enough to bring to my attention a troubling article from the Washington Post in which a man who had earned nine green certifications and sent out hundreds of resumes still has yet to receive a single job offer.

In September, I spoke at a Woodrow Wilson Center event on green jobs for women. Most of the presenters were from nonprofit organizations that train women for green construction jobs. They all reported that their graduates were having trouble finding work.

The subject of the Washington Post article had been laid off from his job as a surveyor:

Anton has been out of work since 2008, when his job as a surveyor vanished with Florida's once-sizzling housing market.

He then retrained to do solar installation, green demolition, etc. and still could not find a job. 

The Washington Post article waves a wagging finger at the green stimulus spending and the promise of green jobs:

The Obama administration channeled more than $90 billion from the $814 billion economic stimulus bill into clean energy technology, confident that the investment would grow into the economy's next big thing.

The underlying assumptions of the Washington Post article, and many others like it, are inherently flawed. You cannot wring blood from a stone. The recovery is happening slowly.  Lending is still very tight, meaning that it is difficult to get building projects -- green or otherwise -- financed. In other words, it's the economy, stupid.

The problem for Mr. Anton is not that he retrained green. Indeed, his odds of finding a job actually went up through his retraining. According to the Pew Charitable trust:

[B]etween 1998 and 2007, clean energy economy jobs -- a mix of white- and blue-collar positions, from scientists and engineers to electricians, machinists and teachers -- grew by 9.1 percent, while total jobs grew by only 3.7 percent. And although we expect job growth in the clean energy economy to have declined in 2008, experts predict the drop in this sector will be less severe than the drop in U.S. jobs overall.

Mr. Anton, and millions of others like him, are out of work not because the promise of a green economy failed, but because the economy failed.

Articles like the Washington Post piece also claim that the promise of the green economy as a job engine has been over hyped.  This is not because the idea that green technology and renewable energy is not a potential new source of job growth -- look at China. Even our own stimulus plan demonstrates that green stimulus projects create the most jobs per dollar of any of the stimulus initiatives. 

Rather, since Obama came into office and pushed a "green" stimulus plan, the public policy initiatives that underpin a successful green economy (not to mention a healthier environment) -- like control of carbon through cap or tax, a national renewable energy portfolio, etc. -- have been jettisoned. With no new real economic engine or dynamism, the overall economy is recovering slowly. Yet, despite these obstacles, green job creation is still outpacing other sectors. 

So, perhaps the Washington Post article should have asked a different question: If green is not the next big thing, what did the other $724 billion buy you?

This post originally appeared on Shari Shapiro's Green Building Law blog and is reprinted with permission.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user codepinkhq.
 

Topics: