by Jorge Madrid
Another week, another misguided attack on green jobs.
This week, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is going after the Department of Labor’s green jobs training program. The program, which was signed into law by fellow Republican George W. Bush, was funded for the first time under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Issa says the program has produced “abysmal results” and failed to meet its goal of placing 52,762 American workers into green jobs. As of June 2011, the program had placed 8,035 workers into jobs, about 10 percent of the final goal. While this placement ratio is indeed disappointing, it reflects deeper issues within the larger economy, and is also based on some premature and misleading analysis.
His attacks have been nicely debunked by both the Center for American Progress and Green for All, but it is worth revisiting the top reasons why Issa’s attacks miss both the point, and the facts, about green jobs.
1. Green Policy + Green Investment = Green Jobs
Jobs are created when the economy demands goods and services; and investment from the private sector flows to the market when policy “TLC” (transparency, longevity, and certainty) is strong. The United States has not met either of those requirements when it comes to green jobs, and we largely have our Republican representatives and their rich patrons in the fossil fuel industry to thank for that.
For one, the 111th Congress failed to put a price on carbon pollution, which would have sent a clear market signal to invest in low-carbon goods and services like solar, wind, and energy efficiency. For another, Republicans and the fossil fuel lobby have vehemently opposed nearly every policy that would signal increased demand to green employers, including a national renewable energy standard, and strengthening clean air standards on coal-fired power plants.
Without some TLC and strong policies in place, clean energy businesses will continue to face major market uncertainty; workers will continue to find it difficult to get good jobs in the green economy; and our country will continue to fall behind in the global clean energy race.
Issa and his Republican colleagues slashed the tires of our automobile and are now complaining that the car is moving too slow.
2. Job Training Does Not Necessarily Mean Job Creation
While job training is critical for growth and competitiveness, it does not create jobs or hedge against a deep economic recession. If we consider the fact that a record 14 million Americans are unemployed, only half of all recent college graduates are finding work that fits their education, and a labor market where there are five applicants for every available job, it should come as no surprise that nearly all sectors are struggling to match workers with jobs.
3. Snapshot Assessments and Shoddy Analysis of Training Programs
The attacks on the green jobs training program are premature. For one, the report Issa cites focuses on only those workers who have been fully trained, not those who are currently going through training programs or who are about to enter into programs funded by the Department of Labor grants.
In addition, these numbers are from June of 2011 — barely a year after most green jobs programs even began training workers. Because this program was funded for the first time in 2009, it understandably took some time to scale up, develop curriculum, attract and enroll students, and actually train them.
It is also important to remember that nearly 40 percent of those trained through these programs are incumbent workers, meaning they already had jobs but were receiving additional training to become more skilled. Looking at new job placements alone ignores those critical workers.
Also, let’s not forget that 8,000 people did find jobs as a result of the green job training programs. As the Chief Economist of the American Petroleum Institute said in the Washington Post, “Anybody dismissing any kind of a job is silly.”
4. Job Training is Critical for Economic Growth
Broadly speaking, these types of programs are absolutely critical for preparing the American workforce for the range of skilled jobs emerging in the clean energy economy.
Employers want to set up shop in locations with an adequate labor pool of skilled workers. However, we know that the U.S. is lagging behind as 44 percent of American workers do not have any education beyond a high school diploma. By 2018, only 36 percent of jobs will be open to workers with a high school diploma, while 30 percent of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education and 33 percent of jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree.
High-tech companies “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” explained Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a recent New York Times article.
Companies say they need engineers with more than a high school school diploma, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.
The Department of Labor’s training program is designed to fill that gap.
5. “It’s Still the [Green] Economy”
America needs jobs and economic growth, and the clean energy sectors of the green economy grew at twice the rate of the broader economy during the peak of the recession. Former President Bill Clinton has laid out a 14-point plan to recover all or most of America’s lost jobs, and six of them are related to the green economy.
The trends in clean energy should have us all paying attention.
Solar power has experienced “ferocious” cost reductions in the past two years and is market competitive with new forms of generation in many parts of the country.
In 2010, America was a $1.9 billion exporter of solar products. During that year, the U.S. solar industry grew 100%. Last year it grew another 100%, making it perhaps the “fastest growing” industry in America. Meanwhile, wind power has seen tremendous market penetration and accounted for 26 percent of all new energy generation in 2010. The technology is expected to provide a third of new U.S. energy production in the next quarter century.
In spite of all these promising trends, Issa has called green jobs “propaganda” and frequently uses his authority as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to call for skewed hearings with titles like “How Obama’s Green-Energy Agenda is Killing Jobs.” Of course, we know that Issa “was for green jobs before [he] was against them” requesting millions of dollars from the DOE back in 2009 for projects that he said would create a modern “green collar” U.S. workforce.
Most importantly, we must not lose sight of the important clean energy transition underway today. If America is going to compete in this next great global industry, we need our workers to be equipped with the proper skills. Railing against this program makes good political theater, but it does nothing to help us build a new economic future.
Jorge Madrid is a research associate on the energy team at the Center for American Progress.