Editor's Note: Our guest blogger is Charlie Johnson, Green Jobs Economist, Oregon Employment Department.
What is the Future of Green Jobs Research?
The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis published a number of interesting articles related to green jobs recently, joining the growing ranks of national entities to weigh in on the topic. However, the Minneapolis Fed’s discussion took on a decidedly different tone than that used by other groups – they go so far as to depict a cheery-looking green balloon labeled “The great green hope” being squeezed by a sharp-toothed vice one might find in a metal-worker’s shop. The same balloon is found on another page under imminent threat of being pricked by a nail. The message is clear: the Minneapolis Fed has taken a step back, and wants to be certain that expectations surrounding green jobs match up with the realities of our current economy and job market.
I would like to commend the Minneapolis Fed, and Ronald A. Wirtz, for their courage in taking a stance that is somewhat in opposition to popular discourse. Mr. Wirtz authored all three articles related to green jobs in the October edition of the FedGazette.
In his article “The many shades of green” Mr. Wirtz points out, correctly, that that the act of counting green jobs is somewhat subjective. A number of states around the country have developed their own definitions of “green job”. In addition, different definitions are being used by many national groups ranging from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to the PEW Research Center to the Office of the Vice President. Some groups are surveying businesses to identify green jobs, some are estimating jobs by counting industry employment, and others are using economic models to predict green jobs. These problems have been discussed extensively in the Labor Market Information community, and have been addressed by others on this blog (see Michelle Melton’s post). It doesn’t seem there will be any cohesion in green jobs research in the foreseeable future.
However, I think the “shotgun” approach to green jobs definitions and research may actually be a good thing. For example, a number of research projects using different methods and definitions have found that green jobs currently account for less than five percent of the workforce. While the details of each study differ, the general conclusion that green jobs make up a small part of the workforce seems more concrete given the variation of methods and definitions.
This brings us to the crux of Mr. Wirtz’ point, put forth in his article “The great green hope”: are expectations surrounding green jobs disconnected from (or at least greatly exceeding) reality? In the Oregon Employment Department’s green jobs survey, employers in Oregon indicated that green jobs made up only three percent of the state’s non-federal workforce in 2008 (www.QualityInfo.org/Green). While 51,000 green jobs is not an insignificant figure in our medium-small west-coast state, when I give presentations about this information I am often met with shock from audience members – many of whom apparently think the number is or should be much larger. In the same survey, Oregon employers predicted that their green jobs would grow 14 percent by 2010. Compared to a statewide projection of nine percent growth from 2008 to 2018, this double-digit two-year growth projection seems wildly optimistic. While no follow-up survey has been conducted to see if that prediction came true, other research conducted in Oregon indicates that green jobs make up only two percent of all the open positions advertised in the state… not exactly a bellwether for strong economic growth. Even if employers’ predictions were on the mark two years ago, 14 percent growth in green jobs would only equate to 7,400 jobs – in a state that lost about 140,000 jobs over the same two-year period. While any new job is a good thing, it is becoming increasingly clear that green jobs growth alone isn’t going to pull the unemployment rate down to pre-recession levels.
Mr. Wirtz, in his article titled “Green: What role government?” claims the promise of funding has resulted in a patchwork of state and local policies and initiatives designed to draw Federal dollars for job creation despite the fact that economic research (conducted by the Minneapolis Fed) shows “incentive wars among local and state governments to attract or retain jobs… is a zero-sum game at best.” This third article does a good job of framing a conversation about the intersection of environmental, employment, and policy goals.
This discussion of a possible disconnect between the expectations and realities of green jobs leaves me wondering what the proper role of the Labor Market Information community is going forward. Funding that has allowed state workforce agencies to focus on green jobs research over the past few years will likely dry up next summer, when our federally funded grant programs expire. There will undoubtedly be continued interest in, and demand for, information about green jobs. But there is also significant demand for information about health care jobs, manufacturing jobs, high-wage jobs, and many others groups of jobs. I am sure most state workforce research groups will try to continue providing high quality green jobs information, but they will find it increasingly difficult without additional funding.
So, I would like to pose these two questions to the community for discussion:
1. How much of our limited time, energy, and resources should we invest in continuing to research one small portion of the workforce when there are other areas that may be growing just as much or providing just as many job opportunities?
2. Given our problems with scarce resources, how should we focus future green jobs research efforts to provide the most useful information possible for data users at the least cost?
November was Veterans Month and we wanted to showcase green job opportunities for our service men and women on our CoP. The video link highlights a non-profit organization- Veterans Green Jobs based in Denver, Colorado that's working hard to make sure our veterans are connected to green jobs.
Our guest blogger Bonnie Graybill, the Deputy
Division Chief, Labor Market Information Division from California writes a
final farewell blog about Understanding the Green Economy. As Bonnie prepares for retirement this month,
we wish her all the best and thank her for contributing to our community of practice.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced the availability of a new online toolkit to guide employers through the process for hiring veterans. The free toolkit is designed to assist and educate employers who have made the proactive decision to include veterans and wounded warriors in their recruitment and hiring initiatives.