NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 17, 2009

The combination of a faltering economy and overall concern for the environment has led many policymakers to call for a shift in Washington State toward the creation of green jobs and a new green economy.  Proponents claim success saying that Washington has created more than 47,000 new green jobs since 2007.  But is that claim really true?  No, says Brandon Houskeeper, of the Washington Policy Center.  The reality shows that the claims about green jobs are misleading.

The key to understanding green jobs is to examine how they are defined. In 1998, a state study defined green jobs by identifying specific industries -- energy efficiency and renewable energy -- and a 2005 study added smart energy. The changing definitions drastically change the number of green jobs that are counted, says Houskeeper:

  • The 2005 report, using a narrower definition, found 8,373 green jobs, but the updated 2008 study counted 47,000 green jobs, in industries like energy efficiency, renewable energy and preventing or reducing pollution.
  • About 13 percent of those jobs were part-time, and that the earning potential of green employment had a wide range based on education, training and skills.
  • But many of the green jobs are not new; they are often traditional jobs that are adapting to new markets and opportunities available.

Although manipulating definitions to achieve preferred outcomes is a common device in policy research, says Houskeeper, the blind promotion of green jobs often comes at the cost of economic realities.

For example, nuclear, hydro and other perceived "non-green" energy sources produce more power per worker than so-called "renewable" alternatives.  Moving from efficient to inefficient energy means more people are needed to do the same amount of work.  The number of jobs increases, but they pay poorly and society as a whole suffers, says Housekeeper.

Source: Brandon Houskeeper, "State Uses Shifting Definitions to Boost Green Job Count," Environmental Watch (Washington Policy Center), August 2009.


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