The Great Green Hope Turns Out To Be A Dud (At Least In The Short Term)

September 6, 2011 by Emsi Burning Glass

image of Lightcast gradiant

It’s been almost three years since EMSI wrote the first of five green job whitepapers, all of which focused in one way or the other on taking a demand-driven approach to what was a new, fresh movement that many hoped would kick-start the economy. What has happened since? David Brooks offered some perspective in today’s New York Times:

The gigantic public investments in green energy may be stimulating innovation and helping the environment. But they are not evidence that the government knows how to create private-sector jobs.

Recently, Aaron Glantz reported in The Times on some of the disappointments. California was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize homes. So far, the program has created the equivalent of only 538 full-time jobs. A $59 million effort to train people for green jobs in California produced only 719 job placements.

SolFocus designs solar panels in the United States, but the bulk of its employment is in China where the panels are actually made. As the company spokesman told Glantz, “Taxes and labor rates” are cheaper there.

There’s a wealth of other evidence to suggest that the green economy will not be a short-term jobs machine.

Could the green movement be a long-term job generator? Possibly. But the employment data — the limited amount that’s available at this point — is not overwhelmingly positive. In July, Brookings published a comprehensive look at the green economy at a national, state, and regional level. But even its researchers pointed out, “Not only do ‘green’ or ‘clean’ activities and jobs related to environmental aims pervade all sectors of the U.S. economy; they also remain tricky to define and isolate—and count.”

According to Brookings, there are some 2.7 million green workers in the US. That’s up from about 2.1 million in 2003 — a annual increase of 3.4%. Click here or the image below to sort through Brookings’ data.

Update: Earlier we reported the total growth of clean energy jobs has been 3.4%, when it’s actually been 3.4% per year and 21% total since 2003.

See here for all of EMSI’s green jobs resources.

Illustration by Mark Beauchamp.