Stimulus Green Jobs Promises “Appear to Have Been Exaggerated and Unrealistic”

April 2, 2012
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DENVER  – Approximately 3.1 million jobs in the United States produce goods and services that directly benefit the environment and protect natural resources, according to a new government labor survey.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics division released its “Employment in Green Goods and Services—2010” report last week, estimating that the so-called green goods and services (GGS) jobs comprised 2.4 percent of total overall employment in the U.S. economy for 2010.

The report found 2.3 million GGS jobs within the private sector, and an additional 860,000 similar jobs in the public sector.

The Federal government listed 156,000 green jobs, with an additional 227,000 at the state level. The total for local governments, at more than 476,000, accounted for a whopping 55.4 percent of the public sector’s contribution to the green jobs results.

In Colorado, there are 72,452 green jobs attributed to both the public and private sectors, for a 3.3 percent share overall of total employment.  Of those green jobs, just 54,453 exist in the private sector, at a slightly lower 3.0 percent rate. Both figures are slightly higher than the proportion at the national level.

Led by California’s 338,445 jobs, six states had more than 100,000 GGS-related positions in 2010. Of those states, California and New York had at least 100,000 GGS employees in the public sector.

The BLS survey estimates, as with other green jobs estimates, rely on a broad “output-based approach” that looks for jobs “associated with producing goods or providing services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.”

A 2011 green jobs report issued by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment estimated that 61,239 Coloradans, or 2.8 percent of the state’s workforce, could be classified as having a “green job.” The survey, commissioned as part of the Obama stimulus bill, used a “broad definition of what constitutes a green job,” noting that such estimates are highly subjective.

The CDLE report also acknowledged that the study, which was intended to provide only a “snapshot” of the state’s green jobs and not a longitudinal reflection on green job creation or retention, determined that “most” of the jobs found in the state “pre-date the green economy.” The pre-existing jobs had simply been repurposed or adapted for green efforts, the findings asserted.

A Brookings Institution study, also from 2011, found even fewer green jobs in Colorado, pegging the number at roughly 51,000, or just 2.2 percent.

The same study found 2.7 million “clean economy” jobs, but in a similar fashion to the CDLE report, noted that many of the jobs, particularly in public mass transit and waste management also existed prior to the advent of what they dubbed the “green economy.”

The New York Times interviewed the author of the Brookings “clean economy” study, who noted that, like the CDLE’s “snapshot,” the new BLS estimates did not track the growth or creation of green jobs over time. While providing some definitional clarity concerning the green jobs sector, the BLS report was a “useful reality check against expectations and promises that, in retrospect, now appear to have been exaggerated and unrealistic.”

All of the surveys used varying research methodologies and green jobs definitions, accounting for at least part of the range of numbers presented across all of the findings for the year 2010. An earlier 2007 American Solar Energy Society estimate, for example, put the number of green jobs in Colorado at a much higher figure of 91,000. That survey was conducted on behalf of the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office.

House Bill 1315, which passed out of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee on an 11-2 vote earlier this week, would change the name, and the mission, of the Governor’s Energy Office. If passed and signed into law, the new Colorado Energy Office would eschew the “New Energy Economy” push made by former Democratic Governor Bill Ritter in favor of a “balanced energy office,” according to the Denver Post.

Among Colorado’s private sector employment figures, professional, scientific, and technical services constituted the largest portion, with 13,678 positions, followed closely by manufacturing, with 11,487. The Administrative and waste services category was tied with construction, at roughly 8,000 jobs each. The four industries encompassed 76 percent of the private sector total.

Question marks remain for the green jobs sector in Colorado. Recent developments among two of the state’s largest renewable energy manufacturers, Abound Solar and Vestas Wind Systems, could put a dent in the state’s future green jobs reports. Abound has already laid off 280 of its 400 employees, and Vestas has repeatedly said that without federal wind production tax credits that are scheduled to end by 2013, more than 1,600 jobs at the company’s four facilities within the state are in jeopardy.

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