There were 3.1 million “green jobs” in the US as of November 2011. Green jobs are growing faster than overall job growth in the US. They pay well, and there’s an increasingly wide range of them accessible to Americans of every level of education and experience, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s “Counting up to green” analysis of the Labor Dept. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s (BLS) groundbreaking Green Jobs report, which was released Sept. 28.
BLS’ data and report follow on similar studies of green jobs — notably by the Brookings Institution and Pew Research Center — that indicate making the transition to a cleaner, greener, low-carbon US economy and society doesn’t necessarily entail a net loss in jobs — far from it. If the transition gathers enough momentum, it appears that more green jobs will be created faster than jobs in other sectors and activites are lost. Not only did green businesses and activities weather the last US banking systems crisis and recession better than others, green businesses and business activities are growing faster than the broad economy. Moreover, states where commerce and industry are greener have been growing faster.
The manufacturing sector accounted for the most green jobs in the US as of November 2011, according to BLS data, which carries substantial irony, as well as paradox, given that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the party as a whole are doing their best to squash what’s been one of the few persistent bright spots in terms of US employment and economic growth in recent years — the rapid development and growth of the US solar, wind, and broad renewable energy and clean technology sectors. That’s led to a revitalization of US manufacturing after decades of decline, job losses, and job exports.
Green Growth and Jobs: Redress for US Economic Malaise
Of even greater significance for US society, the drive to build a greener US economy can go a long way toward long-growing and festering socio-economic ills, according to EPI study author Ethan Pollack: the historically large and growing inequality and disparity in US wealth and income distribution.
“The best case for greater and green investments isn’t just about jobs, but rather about equity and broader economic growth,” Pollack writes. “The ‘dirty economy’ model relies on allowing businesses to push a portion of their costs of production onto third parties [the broad public] without their consent, simultaneously causing harm to people who are disproportionately impoverished and lack political power, and distorting the market by causing an overproduction of pollution-intensive goods at the expense of cleaner goods.”
It also addresses a gross flaw in economic growth and development patterns and policies not only in the US but worldwide: that it’s been based primarily on depleting natural capital — the stock of natural resources and services natural ecosystems provide, benefits that are the foundation for all life on the planet, as well as our economic systems.
“This old economic model relies on depleting the economy’s environmental capital stock at an unsustainable rate, depriving future generations of a healthy and diverse environment and harming long-run economic growth (since much of the economy depends on a clean environment and ample stocks of natural resources),” Pollack continues.
“In sum, a dirty economy subsidizes the well-off by taxing the poor and disenfranchised, distorts the market, and short-changes future generations by leaving the world a worse place for them to live. For these reasons alone, the case for transitioning to a greener and more sustainable economy is well justified.”
Getting a Handle on Green Jobs
Green jobs studies have come under criticism, and much of that has been centered on how green jobs are defined and counted. More on this, and the report’s findings, is to come in a subsequent post. At the top, most general level, however, BLS defines green jobs as:
- Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
- Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.
The Brookings and Pew Center studies broke new ground in their attempts to do so, as does the BLS’ latest effort. The process is evolving and ongoing. No doubt, refinements and improvements need to and will be made.
This process will generate criticism, debate, and some conflict. That’s natural. More importantly, that the Dept. of Labor and BLS are undertaking such an effort shows they’re doing their jobs. The renewable energy, clean technology, and energy efficiency and environmental service sectors are growing fast. The Labor Dept. and BLS are providing an extremely valuable public service in their efforts to measure and understand what’s happening in these sectors when it comes to employment, not only to researchers such as those at EPI, but to all those looking for jobs and to build rewarding careers.
Graphic Credits: The Green Market Oracle; Ethan Pollack, Economic Policy Institute, based on US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 report data