When the editors of GreenBiz.com released their first State of Green Business report, they included a simple question about jobs (as noted in an interesting Gristmill post): How many jobs are being created through all of the kinds of activities measured in this report? The answer: “No one knows.” As of early 2008, the accepted tools for tracking job growth simply hadn’t caught up to the emerging clean technology industry.
Here we are a year later, and there’s suddenly at least $500 million in federal coffers for green job training, courtesy of the economic recovery package. President Barack Obama has credited the legislation with “laying the groundwork for new green energy economies that can create countless well-paying jobs.”
“Countless” doesn’t mean green jobs are uncountable (a stance taken by Max Schulz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial). To track anything, though, we’ll first need some definitions. Vice President Biden set out to tackle this in a Philadelphia Inquirer column ahead of the first meeting of his Middle Class Task Force last week (pictured below):
So what exactly are “green jobs”? They provide products and services that use renewable energy resources, reduce pollution, and conserve energy and natural resources. […]According to the Council of Economic Advisers, green jobs pay 10 to 20 percent more than other jobs. They also are more likely to be union jobs. Building a new power grid, manufacturing solar panels, weatherizing homes and office buildings, and renovating schools are just a few of the ways to create high-quality green jobs that strengthen the foundation of this country.
The Center for American Progress has put together a more detailed list of green jobs by sector:
So if these are the green jobs, how do we track growth — and the returns on that $500 million plus investment in training? Measuring job growth in general can be a tricky proposition — there’s disagreement over what set of employment data offers the most accurate picture. While more than a few think tanks and advocacy groups crunch available numbers, there’s no officially recognized national green jobs index. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only recently broke out one of the easier-to-spot green jobs — wind technician — from the catch-all category of “Installation, Maintenance and Repair Workers, All Other” for data collection, according to the American Wind Energy Association.) The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Mayors Climate Protection Center put together a report on the current and potential green jobs (PDF) in the U.S. economy, focused on metropolitan areas.
Maybe that will be one of the unexpected boons of the stimulus package: the ascendancy of green jobs to the status of closely monitored hard data points.