When Barack Obama spoke of “necessarily bankrupting” coal-fueled electricity producers, he claimed that the explosion in “green jobs” would replace the workers dislocated by penalizing fossil fuels. So far, though, there is little evidence of any explosion in green jobs, or even significant job creation at all. As Politico reports, the Obama administration is having to fall back on “saved and created” language to describe its big investment in the green-collar field:
President Barack Obama heads to an energy plant in North Carolina on Monday to talk once again about the job-creating power of a green economy.
The catch? Nearly three years into Obama’s presidency, the White House can’t point to much solid evidence that significant numbers of Americans are scoring the green jobs the president has been touting.
Monthly Labor Department employment reports say nothing about the new clean energy workforce, while an effort to document how many Americans actually make a living in the “green collar” field may not be done by November 2012.
Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers suggests 225,000 clean energy jobs were either created or preserved through the third quarter of 2010 thanks to more than $80 billion in the economic stimulus package. But those are estimates at best.
At $80 billion, that would mean a cost of $355,555.56 of public subsidy per job created … or “saved.” At best, as Politico states. The administration responds by claiming that these subsidies will have 825,000 people working in green jobs by the end of 2012, work that includes building car batteries — an effort that can only be called green by using the most flexible kind of definition possible, considering the environmentally problematic processes of manufacturing and disposal on which batteries rely.
Even at that, though, the subsidies just from the stimulus (ignoring other federal funding, which is ongoing) would equal to almost $100,000 per job. And the administration claims that a significant number of these jobs would be for “retrofitting homes” for energy efficiency, which would be temporary in nature. That claim also ignores the fact that we have had those stimulus tax breaks and subsidies in place since early 2009. Has construction added jobs, or has it shed jobs, since that time?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is rushing to create a “green jobs” analysis as part of its monthly reporting on the workforce. That should be an interesting project, especially when it comes to definitions of “green.” The BLS estimates that those statistics should be ready by the end of next year, not exactly in time to help Obama make his case for re-election on the basis of a green economy. But that ambiguity might be best anyway, and Obama will certainly make the most of it. And “most” in this context isn’t going to be tough to achieve, relatively speaking:
That report doesn’t appear to have a deadline. But Obama is unlikely to stop talking about his commitment to the issue in the meantime.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they use the green jobs story in the same way they’re using the auto story, as a place where they can tell somewhat of a good story, even if they don’t have the fact base to make it really compelling,” said McDonald.
“Here’s the thing,” he added. “There’s not that many places where they can tell a good story about the economy, so the bar is very low for green jobs to be a centerpiece of his agenda.”
It’s not the green part of the agenda that will be Obama’s problem in 2009. It’s the low bar.