What do you think of when you hear the words “green economy?”
Ask that question to 10 different people and you’ll get 12 different answers. Which is why I was very happy to see this insightful, new analysis from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.
I’ve always been supportive of this stuff, but have fretted about the big questions:
–um, what exactly is “this stuff?”
–how pervasive is it?
–what are the quality of the jobs in this sector?
–and most important, is there really any there here?—i.e., people talk as if the clean economy is an important part of our future. I myself have talked about a role for government in helping to seed expanding industries in this space while older industries contract. Is there evidence to support such claims?
The Brookings folks answer ‘yes, but…’ Yes, the clean economy—the sector that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit—is real. Yes, it’s dynamic and diverse–with pockets of growth in lots of different segments across the economy, from organic food to mass transit to clean energy to the smart grid to move that clean energy around the country.
But…it’s small—less than three million jobs in a job market of 130 million jobs. And whether it grows to scale may well be a matter of whether we’re forward looking enough to help make that happen.
Some key findings below, but here’s my takeaway:
1) In the short run, don’t count on the clean economy (an unfortunate term—are the rest of us “dirty”?!) to generate full employment. But beyond that, there is real potential for growth in good quality jobs with environmental benefits. Moreover, somebody out there in the globe is going to dominate these markets—they are expanding and they will continue to do so. I nominate the good old USA.
2) There are two distinct roles for government in promoting this sector, both on the demand and the supply sides. On the demand side, a “price on carbon” (that’s what you say when you’re too shy to call it a tax) and clean energy standards send important price signals to households and industries. On the supply side, much as I describe here, firms need initial help overcoming barriers to entry, expansion, and innovation. And please don’t give me the squeamish “we don’t pick winners” BS. A) yes, we do all the time–check out the tax code–we just don’t usually do it very smartly and B) like I said, this sector is going to keep growing. It’s just a matter of where.
Some of the findings that caught my eye:
The clean economy is manufacturing and export intensive
- 26 percent of all “clean” jobs are in manufacturing establishments–examples: electric vehicles, green chemical products, lighting products
- On a per-job basis, establishments in clean economy export twice as much as typical US job—that’s helped them expand while traditional manufacturing has contracted.
Green jobs are good jobs
- The median wages is 13 percent higher than the overall median.
- It’s a sector where non-college educated workers can get a middle-class job
- “Clean economy not only pays well, but pays well even for those without post-secondary degrees” — almost half of clean jobs are held by workers without a high school diploma (e.g. mass transit, green construction, recycling), and they make more than those in typical “low-skill” jobs
The study also provides state and city-level profiles.