The “green jobs” idea — that we could vitalize the economy by spending tons of money on promoting ‘green energy’ and other green ideas — is running into trouble. Prominent (and much subsidized) solar manufacturer Evergreen Solar is filing for bankruptcy, citing lower prices and increased competition from a familiar source:
“When margins are getting squeezed, pennies count,” says Pavel Molchanov, a solar analyst with Raymond James Financial. “Quite frankly, as a solar manufacturer, it is a lot better to pay workers $1 an hour in China than workers $15 an hour in Massachusetts.”
Those who tout green jobs as the engine of America’s economic growth miss a fundamental point: there’s no substantive difference between green manufacturing and any other type. Manufacturers have been fleeing the high labor costs and regulation of the United States for cheaper labor in China for years — there’s no reason they won’t do the same simply because a product is “green.” While there is certainly a market for solar panels and other green products, that market follows the same economic rules as everything else. Green jobs are not a solution to America’s economic woes.
Meanwhile from Seattle comes the story that a highly promoted weatherization program (another ‘green jobs’ pipe dream) has gone belly up. Seattle won a $20 million grant from the feds to hire 2,000 locals at “living wages” to upgrade the insulation on 2,000 low income homes. Jobs, free insulation, and a reduced carbon footprint for Seattle. In green circles, this passes for policy brilliance; the Mayor of Seattle joined Vice President Biden last year to get the grant off to a good start. “A triple win,” said the Veep.
And how did this clever little piece of green urban policy work out? Not so great, according to an article by Vanessa Ho in SeattlePI.
But more than a year later, Seattle’s numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.
“The jobs haven’t surfaced yet,” said Michael Woo, director of Got Green, a Seattle community organizing group focused on the environment and social justice.
“It’s been a very slow and tedious process. It’s almost painful, the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got jobs. There’s been no real investment for the broader public.”
But at least all those low income homeowners got insulation upgrades, right?
Well, not exactly, writes Ms Ho, but the Washington Athletic Club got some work done, as did some community hospitals. So: $20 million dollars gets us some paper shuffling bureaucratic jobs for a handful of meeting addicted hactivists and some subsidized building work for a health club.
The “Green Jobs” initiative was a signature policy for the Obama administration and it makes perfect sense on paper: it unifies all the Democratic interest groups, bridging the ideological divide between ‘growth Dems’ and ‘green Dems’. It’s got only two tiny little flaws: first, that it doesn’t work in the real world, and second that the wheels may be coming off the wagon before the 2012 election has safely passed.