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The Facts, Trends and Promise of Green Jobs

When the perception and the reality of green jobs are so obviously aligned, it's hard to see what the argument is about.  Both public opinion polls and employer surveys on the green economy in California lead us to the same conclusion—Californians want green jobs and more of them. Not that green jobs in the state are anything new. 

California's Advanced Energy Job Growth 2003 to 2010(1)


Year-over-year growth in California for green jobs outpaced the nation; the state’s green economy emerged from the height of the recession as vibrant as ever, expanding at a rate of 8.3 percent. In fact, while many industries shed jobs between 2003 and 2010, the green economy added more than 500,000 jobs over the same period.  

In fact, some industries in the green economy showed surprising resiliency during the economic downturn.  In 2009, for example, green manufacturing jobs in California increased by one percent, while California’s economy as a whole registered a 7 percent drop in employment.  This was true across the United States, which in 2010 created about 2.7 million green jobs.  This represented 2.1% of the roughly 130 million overall nonfarm payroll jobs across the U.S.; not a staggering number, but neither is it 


Fastest Growing Segments of California's Advanced Energy Economy(1)


Top Metropolitan Regions in California for Green Jobs 2008(2)


anything to sneeze at when you consider how rapidly the green sector has grown –it’s up 27% from the 2.1 million jobs reported in 2003. So it’s a head-scratcher that pundits and politicians would argue against green jobs (or any job for that matter).  But argue they do.  Whether it is the Institute for Energy Research labeling green jobs a “myth” on the basis that a hybrid bus driver might fall under the Bureau of Labor’s classification of Green Goods and Services, or it is the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research claiming that jobs considered “green,” such as clean coal producers, come at the expense of jobs without the designation, such as coal miners.  If the BLS has a designation for “hair-splitting,” these points certainly qualify, and at the expense of good sense.  Here in California, most of us feel lucky to have AB32’s innovation agenda driving demand for green goods and services: why would anyone be against it?

Outside the world of political spin, state and local governments understand that there is no controversy when it comes to jobs in the green sector: it is universally acknowledged that green jobs are an engine for growth that revives communities.  Green jobs are accessible to all of California’s workers; research from the Brookings Institute shows that over 43 percent of California’s clean jobs were held by workers with a high school diploma or less, with an average annual wage of over $46,000,  about 6% higher than the average annual wage for all jobs in the state.  So when the American Enterprise Institute calls green jobs a “dubious path to the future” because manufacturing jobs in the United States that once carried workers from graduation to retirement are gone like yesterday, I have to wonder if they’ve even heard of California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which is expected to generate over 500,000 new green sector jobs in the coming decades.

Mapping the Green Economy by Company Type in Three California Counties(3)

Fresno County                                                Sacramento County


San Diego County


This isn’t to say the picture is always rosy.  As we saw in the some of the failings of the federally-funded green training programs— learning one of an assortment of functions is not sufficient for full-time employment, particularly in a time of economic hardship.  On their own, function-specific training, such as for Home Energy Rating Systems and weatherization, are not jobs; they’re skills.  But this is why the multiplier effect—returns greater than the initial investment—of the green economy is so critical.  To see how targeted spending leads to greater income and then even more spending; 

California Green Jobs Training Centers in Los Angeles County(4)


consider how the demand for green jobs in California has produced a spate new green job training centers in the GIS map below. Green Jobs across the United States span all education levels after high school.  For the average worker in the green sector of the U.S. economy, median wages are much higher than other energy sector related jobs.  This is despite the fact that nearly half of all green jobs in the U.S. economy do not require a 4-year college degree.  In Los Angeles, for example, workers in the green sector command wages with a 50 to 100 percent premium over the average job in the same county.  Compare that to the findings of the Western States Petroleum Association—an oil industry group—that half of California’s jobs directly related to fossil fuels are gas station attendants earning about minimum wage. (5)

These types of figures go beyond Los Angeles County.  When industry research firm IBIS World lists wind energy, environmental consulting, biotechnology, and solar power as among the fastest-growing industries of 2011, and Forbes Magazine counts solar installers among the highest paying jobs in the country that only require a two-year


Green Jobs in the United States(1)


degree, then I think it’s fair to say that the burden of proof when it comes to the (de)merits of green jobs are on the critics.  Numbers like the ones above suggest we are entering an era that political leaders and opinion shapers cannot ignore.  Criticizing green jobs doesn’t just ignore reality in California and around the country, it ignores Americans with a steady job and a bright future—just the kind of Americans who are most likely to vote.  So it’s strange that, given the facts and the forward momentum, critics continue to promote misinformation.  Luckily, Americans are practical at heart, which makes it hard for us to turn away from the sensible policies of the green economy—policies that spur economic development, provide a living wage, address climate change, diversify our energy portfolio away from overseas cartels, and reduce the pollution around us.

The good news is that the critics are swimming upstream.  There might have been a time when green jobs were the small dream of a small constituency, but those days are long gone.  Given the facts, the trends, and promise of green jobs, it’s not just time for opponents to start seeing green—it’s time for them to start seeing the obvious.


(1)Source: Sizing the Clean Economy: California, Brookings Institution, 2011.

(2)Source: Innovating the Green Economy in California Regions, 2010.

(3)Source: Environmental Defense Fund, Mapping the Green Economy

(4)Source: California Green Economy Map

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