Two years ago, the federal government quietly abandoned its $60 million effort to isolate “green jobs” from employment in other sectors of the economy, a campaign that one key congressman called little more than “propaganda designed to advance a misleading political narrative” and that a former head of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggested was pointless, since so-called green jobs were created by government regulations.
As a candidate for president in 2008, Barack Obama said he would create 5 million green jobs, and in 2009 the U.S. Department of Labor had developed plans to define and count them. Officials in the N.C. Department of Commerce, using nearly $1 million allocated by the federal government to survey companies across North Carolina, produced a report including estimates of green jobs by industry sector for 2010. A Commerce spokesman says the findings were “useful.”
But the BLS programs measuring green jobs and reporting on green-job activities ended in March 2013. The agency said budget cuts resulting from the sequestration process led it to end funding for the green jobs programs and its “mass layoff statistics” program.
The announcement that the two programs no longer would be funded drew little media attention. “There were intense discussions about what to pick [as a result of sequestration] and BLS management decided these were the programs to cut,” BLS public affairs director Megan Kindelan told Carolina Journal. BLS has no plans to revive the green-jobs program, suggesting the agency found little value in the process despite fanfare surrounding the emergence of a “green economy.”
BLS was charged with defining and counting green jobs through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, passed by the Democratic-led U.S. Congress and signed into law December 2007 by President George W. Bush.
After Obama became president, the Labor Department allocated $8 million to BLS and $48 million to individual states to count green jobs. The N.C. Department of Commerce received $946,000.
The BLS green jobs program included: data on employment by industry and occupation for businesses that produce green goods and services; data on the occupations and wages of jobs related to green technologies and practices; and green career information publications.
In February and March of 2012, CJ reported on the challenges of defining and tracking green jobs. For the year 2010, the BLS survey concluded that North Carolina employment in the production of green goods and services was 77,498; meanwhile a Commerce survey found that “171,950 North Carolinians work in the green economy.” The federal government funded both surveys. CJ found similar discrepancies in other states.
CJ pointed out the national and state efforts were repetitive because they were based on the existing BLS programs of counting jobs by industry and occupation. The “green” label added a third dimension to job-counting that proved to be confusing because state and federal agencies had different definitions for green jobs.
For instance, in a June 2012 congressional hearing, U. S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R- Ala., questioned Obama’s science advisor John Holdren about the classification of green jobs. Brooks told Holdren that a senior Labor Department official previously testified to Congress that the following occupations were green jobs: “College professors teaching environmental courses, school bus drivers regardless if the bus is hybrid or alternative, workers who fuel school buses, employees at bicycle shops, antique dealers because they sell recycled goods, Salvation Army employees, people who sell rare books and manuscripts because the items are used and recycled.
Holdren conceded that the definition was “overly broad.”
According to the state’s definition, the top green occupations in North Carolina in 2010 included: janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners; retail salespersons; highway maintenance workers, construction workers, heating and air conditioning mechanics and installers; food preparation and serving workers, including fast food; and automotive service technicians and mechanics.
Critics of methodology
Bloomberg News mentioned the demise of the BLS program in a March 2013 story about federal budget cuts. Bloomberg asked Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., then chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, about the program. “This was never a real report, but rather propaganda designed to advance a misleading political narrative. From its inception it was an abuse of taxpayer dollars and it’s unfortunate it took the sequester to make the administration realize it,” Issa told Bloomberg.
John Berlau, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., was also no fan of the effort to count green jobs. “It is inherently subjective because there is no standard definition of what a green job is. When an employment survey starts from the premise that some jobs are better than others, it is propaganda,” he told Bloomberg. In an interview, Berlau told CJ, “It is clear that there has been no lasting damage to the economy [from ending the BLS counting program]. Let’s go further and eliminate more so-called green job programs,” he said.
In a 2013 article for Forbes Opinion titled “Goodbye To Green Jobs, You Won’t Be Missed,” Keith Hall, who was commissioner of BLS from 2008-12, noted that many of the jobs considered to be green were created because of government regulation. “Every person employed to deal with regulatory compliance — directly or indirectly — is unavailable to provide other goods and services of real value,” he wrote.
(Editor’s note: In late February, Hall was chosen to lead the Congressional Budget Office.)
N.C. Commerce report
N.C. Commerce Department spokesman Graham Wilson told CJ that the state would not spend any more time trying to count green jobs even though the state’s previous work was useful. “The study served its purpose when there was a focus on the green economy. It was useful to analyze the green sector of N.C.’s economy and provide customers with information that could be used for multiple purposes. We think customers who are interested in the green economy might still find it useful since it is the most recent information we have,” he said.
Carol McClellend’s book Green Careers for Dummies was published in 2010, before the BLS green job reports were released. The book was targeted at readers hoping to “find a green career that taps into your passions and qualifications; immerse yourself in your green target industry; play to your strengths in the green career arena; and harness the Web to launch your green job search.”
“As the green economy matures and more companies implement sustainability initiatives, it’s likely we’ll come to a time when all jobs have a green component to them,” she stated in the book.
CJ asked her about the end of the BLS program. “Measuring green jobs is a difficult thing. It is like a different overlay [to the existing job classifications],” she said.
McClellend expressed no concerns about the demise of the BLS program. “We still have a difficult time defining ‘sustainability’ as well. We are still finding our way here. The green overlay is a mind-set that is spreading,” she said.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.