Climate Justice & Sustainability

Missing The Green Jobs Revolution?

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In the US there have been upward of 100 green jobs studies, and the UK is close to matching that. Whilst many talk about the potential benefits of green jobs for young people, few have asked the question “who will hold these jobs?” As part of a series on Green Jobs, Kyle Gracey brings us the outcomes of his latest research, taking a critical look at whether the growth of a green jobs market will really benefit young people.

As many if not more words have been written about the promise of green job creation than the number of green jobs actually created. That’s no slight to this new economic engine, with many millions of new jobs expected to have been created already from new opportunities in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water conservation and more. And many more jobs on the way.

The mountains of ink and computer code are instead a statement of the intense interest, and sometimes intense scrutiny, that the topic has undergone, mostly in the last decade. In the United States alone, often seen as the epicenter of this new movement shaking up traditional economic forecasting, there have been upwards of 100 green jobs studies in the last dozen years. And the trend is growing in many other countries, with the UK notably putting out more research and on-the-ground job creation projects in recent years. Everything from industry-specific analyses to country-wide studies have come forth.

Yet, in all that flurry of documents, a big question often remains unanswered. And often even unasked:

Who will hold these jobs?

That’s because most studies look at sheer number of jobs created. That’s perhaps understandable, but beyond this, essentially no effort has gone into figuring out how equitably these new jobs are and will be distributed. Will green jobs mean jobs for women, minorities, youth, and other key demographics?


A small amount of recent research has begun to answer this*, although much work remains.The results of the research already done are mixed. For women, blacks, Asians, and youth (especially those 16-24), the fraction of green jobs they held, out of all green jobs in the economy, were smaller than their equivalent fraction of overall jobs.

Women, for example, make up roughly half the workforce, but seen to have less than a quarter of the green jobs. The numbers are even starker when we look at demographics inside of demographics; young men and women are close to 50-50 in the overall economy, but men seem to have about 2/3 of all clean energy and energy efficiency jobs.

Why the imbalance? Hard to know for sure, but one likely culprit is the types of jobs that count as green. Think about a sheet metal worker, or a construction foreman in the construction of a highly energy efficient building. Labor force data shows that these positions are disproportionately white, often Latino or Hispanic, and usually foremenrather than forewomen. And usually not 18-year olds.

While many racial, ethnic, and gender differences in the workforce have eroded, many are still there.

So because young people - and especially young women - don’t hold the sorts of jobs that are counted as ‘green’, an increase in the number of these jobs will benefit them less than other sections of society.

It’s not all bad news…

In fact, it might be very good overall. And that’s because green jobs analysts may have had it right from the beginning - focus on overall jobs.

If we expand the definition of green jobs a little, the picture changes. So far, we’ve been talking aboutdirectjobs; jobs that get created (and destroyed) straight from a policy, investment, or other shifts in the economy.

But there are alsoindirectjobs. Those are ones that get created when the companies with the direct jobs spend money on essential services to run their businesses - think lawyers/barristers, accountants, and other professional service providers.

On top of this areinducedjobs - jobs that get created because new workers, or better-paid workers, spend their money back into the economy. These kinds of occupations can be things like food and retail.

So what? Well, as any student working in fast food or selling clothes in a mall can see, the demographics of these jobs are often very different from those of the classic - the food and retail sectors are amongst the largest employers of young people.

So whilst these aren’t the sorts of jobs that spring to mind when they think of green jobs, they are also being created by the green economy.

That doesn’t mean there are as many of these jobs as there are ‘true green jobs’, nor is there a guarantee that they pay as well or have as good benefits. But it does mean that more people will likely benefit from green job creation than it first seems.

Plus, it’s not as if the alternative is much better - the results for the fossil fuel industry, at least for unconventional fossil fuel jobs like fracking, seem to benefit the same groups. Men seem to get most of the jobs, particularly white men, but also Latinos and Hispanics, compared to the economy on average. Among youth, who don’t fare very well, young women get the least positions.

Green jobs might not be a great equalizer, they certainly seem to offer more job benefits than the alternatives.

*Six studies since mid-2010, written by this author, three with co-author Michael Davidson, look at the prospects across genders, races, ethnicities, and ages, and in one case for these groups for green building industry jobs and another for green infrastructure operations & maintenance. The organizationGreen for Allalso produced one study that looked a bit at racial and gender differences for clean water jobs.All of these were focused on the United States.

This blog is part of a series on green jobs. To read the other articles, clickhere.

Featured Image: Green Jobs for America via The Green Market Oracle