What's Really Happening With Green Jobs

Green jobs are one of America's best-kept secrets, but they shouldn't be. When you consider the fact that at least 3.1 million Americans already work in green jobs, and that green industries and businesses can help solve some of our country's biggest problems -- from pollution to poverty and economic stagnation -- you'd think we'd be hearing our leaders talk about green jobs all the time.

A new report released last week by the Economic Policy Institute takes a close look at green jobs data, and finds that the growth and benefits of the green economy are even stronger than we previously thought. Among the report's findings:

Green industries are growing faster than the overall economy. Clean energy jobs have grown nearly two-and-a-half times as fast as jobs in the rest of the economy.

States with green jobs fared better during the economic downturn. In general, the greener a state's economy is, the better it has done in the recession.

Green jobs are manufacturing-heavy. Roughly one-fifth of all green jobs are in manufacturing. That's important because we desperately need manufacturing jobs -- America has lost roughly 5.5 million jobs in manufacturing since 2000.

Green jobs create pathways into the middle class. Jobs in the green economy tend to require less formal education than jobs in the rest of the economy, while paying better wages. And that's an excellent formula for creating pathways out of poverty. The EPI report underscores just how well green jobs perform in this area. It finds that for every one percentage point increase in the green intensity of a given industry, there is a corresponding .28 percentage point increase in the share of jobs in that industry held by workers without a four-year college degree. That's important. When Americans who can't afford college can still land a healthy, family-supporting job, it means more opportunity for more people. That benefits us all.

The EPI report shows that green jobs are already taking root in all sectors of our economy, from manufacturing and construction to energy and technology. But we can do even more to amplify these gains -- and put millions of more Americans back to work -- simply by adopting smart local, state, and federal policies.

These include investments like fixing our stormwater infrastructure, which would create at least 2 million jobs, and supporting energy efficiency programs in cities and states, which could put half a million people to work.

They also include efforts to cut pollution and protect public health, like the new fuel economy standards announced by President Obama in August, which will add roughly 500,000 jobs by 2030, many of them in auto manufacturing.

Public policy crafted around long-term goals is especially important because it creates more certainty for green businesses and investors. A 10-year commitment to the tax credits for wind (PTC) and solar (ITC) would generate thousands of new jobs. Building a single 250-megawatt wind farm puts more than 1,000 people to work.

A national renewable energy portfolio standard or energy efficiency standard would catalyze private sector green jobs. A solid long-term commitment to reducing carbon emissions would put people to work keeping our air clean. So why isn't there more support from policymakers for green jobs?

One reason is because green industries present a threat to the old, entrenched, dirty way of doing business. They're an alternative to the economic model that allows coal and oil companies to pass a portion of their production costs on to third parties without their consent -- usually to people with the least amount of money and political influence. Under this model, communities like Richmond, Calif., are forced to absorb the costs of health care and emergency services necessitated by polluting businesses like Chevron.

This old economic model also relies on passing its costs along to future generations. By depleting the economy's environmental capital stock at an unsustainable rate, it hurts long-term economic growth, and deprives our children and grandchildren of clean air, clean water, and abundant natural resources.

Green industries challenge that economic model. They prove that businesses can succeed without destroying our resources and our health. As the EPI report shows, green jobs are already a key part of our economy. Even in the face of an economic downturn -- and with almost no long-term policy goals to send clear signals to the market -- green businesses have been cutting pollution and providing millions of us with paychecks.

If we make smart policy choices today, we can expand these wins -- and put even more Americans to work.