Every day, optimistic announcements are made about green jobs and expansion of the clean economy across the United States and around the world. But, just how big is the clean economy and how exactly do you measure it? The Brookings Institute, a non-profit public policy institute based in Washington D.C., studied the nature, size, and growth of the low carbon economy to get to the bottom of these tricky questions.
2.7 million U.S. workers are currently employed across a diverse range of industries in what Brookings defines as green jobs. The U.S. clean economy now employs more workers than the fossil fuels industry, according to their report “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment.”
Green jobs grew more slowly than the overall national economy between 2003 and 2010. But, newer clean tech market segments (like solar, wind, fuel cells, smart grid, biofuel, and batteries) grew significantly faster during the recession than the national economy. The study authors point out that traditional green jobs in the housing and construction fields declined significantly in 2007 and 2008, which is the primary reason why the clean economy didn’t keep pace with the national economic growth rate.
26% of clean economy jobs reside in manufacturing and these green products are exported at double the national rate of other products. The electric vehicles (EV), green chemical products, and lighting segments are all especially manufacturing intensive while the biofuels, green chemicals, and EV industries are highly export intensive. These green jobs bring good news for low- and middle-skilled workers when compared with the U.S. national economy as a whole. Median wages for these workers is 13% higher than median U.S. wages.
Seven of the 21 states with at least 50,000 clean economy jobs are in the South. Among states, California has the highest number of clean jobs but Alaska and Oregon have the most per worker. Most of the country’s clean economy jobs and recent growth concentrate within the largest metropolitan areas. Some 64 percent of all current clean economy jobs and 75 percent of its newer jobs created from 2003 to 2010 congregate in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas.
Brookings offers their prescription for boosting the green economy, including government purchasing of green products, making affordable capital available for large scale projects, and supporting innovation-driving programs such as ARPA-E.
The question remains though whether the U.S. will continue to fall behind China and Europe or whether this is the moment when the U.S. clean economy surges forward.