RALEIGH — Sometime in March, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its first report estimating the number of “green” or “clean” jobs in the nation. The $8 million BLS project follows $48 million worth of stimulus grants that the Labor Department had made to individual states to produce their own green job definitions and estimates.
North Carolina received $946,000 from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for its study. While most states released their green job reports last year, North Carolina’s project is behind schedule.
The Tar Heel State’s report now is scheduled for publication in March, which may or may not come out before the national BLS survey.
Green jobs generally are thought of as jobs associated with products and services that use renewable energy resources, reduce pollution, or conserve natural resources. But as Rick Clayton, manager of the BLS green jobs project, noted in an October 2010 presentation, there is “no widely accepted definition” of a green job.
The BLS survey may provide some clarity to the definition, but that report will come on the heels of separate state projects, also funded by the federal government, that have attempted to measure green jobs. Since BLS does not allow states to set up categories and classifications of jobs that do not match federal definitions for other purposes, such as tracking employment, it’s unclear what value any of the state surveys will have to anyone other than elected officials and civic boosters.
Carolina Journal asked Clayton, who also heads the BLS Division of Administrative Statistics and Labor Turnover, if the BLS job estimates would make surveys developed by individual states obsolete. “We feel that each state is free to develop their own needs and collect the data they need,” he said.
Even so, one state employment agency acknowledged the difficulty of developing a meaningful definition of green jobs. From the preface to “Green Jobs and the Ohio Economy,” prepared by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services:
“Unfortunately, green advocacy has generally occurred within a context where little has been done in respect to benchmarking, whether in the form of clear and precise definitions of green, or how we measure work force and economic aspects of green.”
As a result of this lack of precision, some of these definitions encompass jobs that have a very loose connection to green initiatives.
• The Indiana green jobs study concluded that the top five “Green and Growing Occupations” were truck drivers, industrial engineers, mechanical engineers, sales representatives, and maintenance workers.
• The Hawaii report lists construction and government as the state’s two largest green industries.
• The Iowa study concluded that the state had 17,059 green jobs, or 3 percent of total statewide employment. Included in that total are 1,007 construction laborers, 603 landscaping workers, and 570 heavy truck drivers.
• The Washington state study listed greenhouse workers, electricians, construction laborers, and carpenters as the categories with the most green jobs.
• Several states have classified trash collection workers in the green job family.
Paul Bachman, director of research at the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston, told CJ that national enthusiasm for green job programs peaked shortly after Barack Obama became president.
Bachman, who co-authored a 2009 report titled “Green Collar Job Creation: A Critical Analysis,” said the BLS green jobs report “may be useful for politicians, but I see no other practical use.”
Selling green jobs
Obama said in early 2009 that he was committed to doubling America’s production of renewable energy. “In the process, we’ll put nearly half a million people to work building wind turbines and solar panels; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to new jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain,” he said.
Many governors followed the president’s lead. “Developing our green economy is a cornerstone of my vision for North Carolina’s economic future,” Gov. Bev Perdue said in May 2009. “Creating green jobs and businesses is a key part of my JobsNOW initiative, and the energy reforms I am implementing will lay the foundation for North Carolina to lead the nation in green energy. The state that gets green right will own the next 50 years. I intend for North Carolina to be that state.”
The goal of the BLS green jobs initiative is to provide information on the number of green jobs and trends over time; the industrial, occupational, and geographic distribution of these jobs; what green jobs pay; and related career information.
The total green job initiatives in 2009 run through the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration totaled $500 million, of which $435 million went to green job training programs.
BLS will release a green job estimate for the nation and the individual states by major industry group, and plans to update that information periodically. The estimates will be developed from surveys issued to a sample of employers
But measuring green jobs is a new and complex undertaking and a clear national goal regarding green jobs has yet to materialize.
The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy research organization, released its own green jobs study in July 2011. Brookings referred to a separate “green economy.” The Brookings study concluded that in 2010, 2 percent of the nation’s jobs were part of the “Aggregate Clean Economy.”
In many cases, Brookings’ green jobs estimates differ greatly from estimates produced by individual states. For example, Brookings estimated that in 2010, Georgia had 83,707 green jobs, while the federally funded study by the Georgia Department of Labor estimated that the state had approximately 40,000 green jobs.
For California, Brookings came up with 318,156 green jobs; the federally funded California Employment Development Department study estimated the state had 432,840 green jobs. For Indiana, Brookings estimated 53,684 green jobs, while the Indiana Department of Workforce Development estimated the state had 46,879 green jobs.
Green initiatives take a hit
Green job programs received significant negative publicity last year. The failure of the Solyndra solar project drew plenty of headlines, but problems with the programs went much deeper.
“Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show. Two years after it was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize drafty homes, California has spent only a little over half that sum and has so far created the equivalent of just 538 full-time jobs in the last quarter, according to the State Department of Community Services and Development,” reported The New York Times in August 2011.
“A $38.6 billion loan guarantee program that the Obama administration promised would create or save 65,000 jobs has created just a few thousand jobs two years after it began, government records show. The program — designed to jump-start the nation’s clean technology industry by giving energy companies access to low-cost, government-backed loans — has directly created 3,545 new, permanent jobs after giving out almost half the allocated amount, according to Energy Department tallies,” reported The Washington Post in September 2011.
One of the most scathing criticisms came from the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General, also released in September. That report found that ETA’s $435 million training initiative had failed to reach employment targets and so far had targeted 80,000 trainees for placement in green jobs but so far had only placed about 8,000 workers, or 10 percent.
The report recommended that more than $300 million in unspent funds be returned and used for other purposes.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.