What Happened to All of Those Green Jobs?

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What Happened to All of Those Green Jobs?

In 2008, during a debate that helped to vault him to the presidency, Barack Obama declared, "This is not just a challenge, it's an opportunity. Because if we create a new energy economy, we can create 5 million new jobs, easily, here in the United States."

It was a vision that sounded too good to be true: Not only would the U.S. end its reliance on fossil fuel, but the wounded economy would be healed as millions of Americans went back to work.

But today, five years later, despite massive subsidies and numerous policy decisions favorable to the renewable energy industry, virtually none of those 5 million green jobs has materialized.

That isn't immediately clear, however, if you simply accept at face value the statistics that are regularly issued by the government's economists. Consider the March 2012 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that announced that the U.S. economy had 3.1 million green jobs, including 2.2 million in the private sector.1

How did the BLS arrive at that number? The bureau's wonks apparently decided to expand the definition of a "green job" so that practically any occupation would qualify.2

The BLS study defined "green goods and services" as "goods and services produced by establishments that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. Green goods and services fall into one or more of the following five groups: (1) production of energy from renewable sources; (2) energy efficiency; (3) pollution reduction and removal, greenhouse gas reduction, and recycling and reuse; (4) natural resources conservation; and (5) environmental compliance, education and training, and public awareness."


As David W. Kreutzer, PhD, Research Fellow in Energy Economics and Climate Change at the Heritage Foundation, discovered when he looked more closely at the study, very few of the 3.1 million "green jobs" counted by the BLS would fit what most people have in mind when they hear that term. Moreover, even fewer of those jobs were created as a result of the green subsidies and mandates that focused on the energy industry.

Here are some examples that Kreutzer cites, using the numbers from the BLS report:3

  • There were 33 times as many green jobs in the septic tank and portable toilet servicing industry as in the solar utility industry...

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