justin salters

Justin Salters

The future of California’s middle class rests in the promise and limitless potential of new green jobs.

At least, that’s the story that’s been foisted on Californians for more than a decade. But is it true?

The California Center for Jobs and the Economy recently released a new report that attempts to cut through the haze and examine the actual impact of green jobs in the Golden State.

The report, “California Green Jobs,” is the first phase of a broader effort to clarify what constitutes a green job and quantify both the economic significance and costs of green jobs to California’s economy.

It’s a daunting, but necessary task.

The concept of green jobs has been around for some time, but the phrase took off as part of the vernacular during the recent recession. Green jobs and the “Green Economy” were touted as a counterbalance to the weight of expanded federal and state environmental regulatory programs.

In his 2008 Blueprint for Change campaign document, President Obama laid out an agenda to invest $150 billion over 10 years to deploy clean technologies, protect American manufacturing and create 5 million new green jobs. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriated $90 billion for this purpose, but left green jobs broadly defined.

Since then, nothing has been done to narrow the definition.

A study by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2010 defined “green products or services” as ones which conserve energy and other natural resources or reduce pollution.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics followed that up with a far broader range of activities in its definition of green jobs. They include renewable energy, energy efficiency, pollution reduction and removal, greenhouse gas reduction, and recycling and reuse, natural resources conservation, and environmental compliance, education and training and public awareness.

If that definition were not all-encompassing enough, California’s Employment Development Department developed its own list of activities that constitute green jobs.

Its list was even broader.

These increasingly broad definitions are problematic because what constitutes a green job is directly related to estimates of the number of green jobs. In turn, those estimates are used to both defend existing environmental regulations from scrutiny and advocate for new, even more draconian energy policy.

The Center for Jobs’ preliminary estimates are that there are only 171,300 new direct green jobs in California. To put that number in perspective, California has more than 17 million nonfarm jobs. That means new green jobs represent just 1 percent of the state economy.

If you take into account existing jobs that have been reclassified as green in other studies, the number more than doubles to 361,300 green jobs. Still, at best, new and reclassified green jobs make up just 2.2 percent of the state’s economy.

This begs the question, should we consider reclassified jobs part of the new green economy? Hardly. Reclassified jobs are labeled green based on inconsistent definitions. Plus, they don’t give any realistic representation of job creation or economic growth. Reclassifying existing jobs as green jobs and touting them as evidence of the burgeoning green economy is nothing more than sleight of hand.

Reclassified jobs also include a significant number of longstanding government employees, like park workers, garbage workers, and environmental regulators. Government employees represent nearly one-third of new and reclassified green jobs: 107,300. Surprisingly, only 200 of which are new. Public sector jobs are not a long-term strategy for economic vitality. On the contrary, a metastasizing public sector is a recipe for economic anemia.

Current green jobs claims are also over-reliant on temporary construction jobs. There is no question that jobs are created by the construction and installation of renewable energy projects, but these jobs don’t last. The state already has an excess of solar power generation and we are reaching our capacity for new wind turbines. These jobs will not sustain future middle-class growth either.

It goes without saying that California is increasingly unaffordable, both to middle class families and the employers who create middle class jobs. Despite these economic realities, the state’s quixotic quest towards decarbonization continues.

Whether it’s cap and trade, renewable portfolio standard, low carbon fuels, mandatory rooftop solar, or a ban on the internal combustion engine, the crusade towards a green economy marches on, skeptics be damned.

This is cause for concern. Because if left unabated, California is on a path to end up resembling the Man of La Mancha’s Spain in more ways than one.

Wind mills, and a two-class society.

It might make for great literature, but it’s not a California I’m eager to call home.

Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes weekly on politics and current events; the views expressed are his own. Reach him on Twitter @justinsalters or email him your thoughts: justin@justinsalters.com.

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