The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
GAO Report: Obama's Green Jobs for Stimulus Plan a Bust

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In 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known simply as the Recovery Act) in a bid to use government dollars to jump start a flagging US economy. The Act allocated more than half a billion dollars to the Department of Labor to create green jobs. Now, four and a half years later, the government decided to check in on its investment. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a disturbing report last Friday that found that the program created a lot fewer jobs than was promised.

The GAO was careful to note that their assessment wasn’t exhaustive; it lacks data for roughly 40 percent of its grantees. But from the data it does have, the GAO found that final job placements were a dismal 55 percent of their targets. The GAO explains that “training programs were initiated prior to a full assessment of the demand for green jobs, which presented challenges for grantees.” Challenges like: how to create a job out of thin air. The Department of Labor had a federal mandate to push these training programs out as quickly as possible, states were just getting around to gathering information on the green labor market, and defining exactly what a green job was.

All of the grantees interviewed by the GAO “broadly interpreted Labor’s green jobs definitional framework to include as green any job that could be linked, directly or indirectly, to a beneficial environmental outcome.” That’s a very wide net to cast. As the GAO notes, one could call an air conditioner technician a green worker because some of the time that person could be installing high-efficiency systems, even if most of that technicians customers have energy-hogging systems.

This broad definition also pokes holes in Obama’s campaign promises of millions of new green jobs. It’s all well and good to green existing jobs—teach new techniques, incorporate better, more efficient technology, etc.—but that doesn’t add new jobs to the labor market.

The GAO’s report isn’t conclusive, but it isn’t encouraging. There’s still a lot of unknown data to be collected, but going on what we’re seeing here, this was not a well-run operation. Money was poured into an industry that hadn’t been fully evaluated, and the demand for green jobs wasn’t as high as anticipated. The GAO reported that most of the grantees it interviewed were frustrated by the fact that they had to ”simultaneously drive both supply and demand for workers with green skills.” It seems the green jobs unicorn remains as elusive as ever.

[Broken solar panel image courtesy of Getty Images]

Published on July 25, 2013 8:30 am
  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Every dollar the Government spends must first be taken from the economy. Given this inescapable fact, why would anyone think that the Government can create jobs? The Government is and will always be a COST or in other words the Overhead of the economy. To make the economy more efficient reduce the costs (this is what Businesses do), cut the Government, this will increase the number of jobs, as more money is available for previously uneconomical jobs.

    • bpuharic

      Incorrect. Govt spending can create jobs since we see it everytime you see a member of the armed forces. And it’s not ‘always’ a cost unless you think roads, schools, hospitals and other investments in infrastructure add nothing to and economy

      We cut govt spending in sequestration. Some conservative estimates are this could drop GDP growth by 1%

      http://www.businessinsider.com/us-gdp-impact-of-cuts-in-full-sequester-2013-1

      This drip drip drip of fundamentalist economics is tiresome and it’s going to be interesting to see how long it takes to wear itself out before even the extreme right gets a clue.

      • Bruno_Behrend

        Failing to heed the admonition not to feed adolescent trolls…

        You ignore J_L’s point that money must be taken out (or borrowed) of the economy to pay soldiers and other gov. employees.

        Hence, you are both right and both wrong.

        Any investment MIGHT be good, assuming it does less damage than it does good.

        [An educated populace is worth paying for, but an army of worthless administrators and sub-par teachers failing inner-cities is not.]

        The TVA may have been a good investment, as it took America’s poorest regions and gave them the electricity necessary to catch up to the rest of an advancing nation.

        Solyndra, OTOH, did nothing but enrich a closed class of connected campaign donors, and did nothing but damage the economy.

        ____

        Rational people can debate these things. Silly twits use language like ” before the extreme right gets a clue”

        …themselves being clueless to their own immaturity and extremism.

        • bpuharic

          And you ignore the point that’s irrelevant. Right wingers don’t know economics and this proves it

          If demand is LOW then it’s GREAT to borrow and spend. You can’t cut your way out of a recession. The numbers don’t work.

          And I suggest you spend less time telling me how right I am…since I already know that…and start lambasting the right for making such stupid comments as the govt ‘can’t create jobs’ which is pure swill.

        • bpuharic

          Oh..by the way…one of Solyndra’s partners…

          was a major contributor to a guy named Mitt Romney.

        • f1b0nacc1

          You have just produced an excellent portrayal of a subset of Bastiat’s “Broken Windows Fallacy”

          • Bruno_Behrend

            I could also argue that it isn’t necessarily a fallacy.

            Leaving aside libertarian and progressive dogma, the electorate wants, and is willing to pay for, a certain amount of government.

            Though not an out-and-out small “d” democrat, the fact is that people vote for this stuff, often mistakenly, sometimes wisely.

            While I am currently far closer to the conservative position that we spend and waste way too much, I’m not a Rand-ian dogmatic that believes we should impose “Galt’s Gulch” on anyone.

            I don’t support breaking windows, but I do support breaking government programs that are proven failures.

            If I could blow up every public school in America, I’d be doing the nation a favor, as the nearly $600 bn we pour into the failed brick and mortar “government education complex” can then be reallocated.

            There are exceptions to every rule, and if broken windows is a fallacy in most instances, it is not in every instance.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Actually we agree for the most part. I am not much of a fan of government intervention, but as you correctly point out, there are exceptions to every rule. Mind you, the ‘Randian libertarian’ straw man that the Left is so fond of typically exists only in their fevered imaginations. Certaily you can find a few loons who fit the bill, but ultimately we are talking about a few isolated nutters.The problem i have with the Left (those that are able to reason at all) is that they have never seen a government aggrandizement that they didn’t like, and they make no exceptions.

          • Fred

            I think only ideologically blind nincompoops like bpuharic really believe that conservatives (as opposed, perhaps, to big-L Libertarians) oppose taxes and regulations per se. The question is how much and what kind. And rational people can disagree about those questions. But just because the public may choose to partially enact the broken window fallacy doesn’t make it any less of a fallacy.

          • bpuharic

            Liberarians oppose all taxes no matter for what. Even to fund hospitals to save their own children’s lives…you’re supposed to rely on charity or die if you can’t afford healthcare

            Conservatives are in favor of taxes…on the middle class. After all we’re ‘moochers’. THey’re in favor of NO taxes on the wealthy because they’re ‘job creators’ even though we LOST millions of jobs after we cut capital gains taxes.

          • bpuharic

            BLow up every school?

            By all means let’s go back to the future….the 19th century. Let’s compete in a world economy with only the children of the rich getting educated.

      • Jeff Jones

        Govt spending will never create enough jobs to reach a reasonable level of prosperity.

        1) You have to take money out of the economy to put it back in

        2) That money gets distributed to areas where there is a political gain to be had. It doesn’t go where there is a potential market.

        If govt had decided to stimulate the cellphone market, it is unlikely it would have gone to a winner like Apple. It would have gone to some politician’s buddy, who had an inferior product. Only on extremely rare occasion does it end in a winner.

        An economy involves billions of transactions and tiny decisions by people well-versed in their area. There is no way some bureaucrat in Washington could ever hope to know enough to be successful at that.

        • bpuharic

          Govt spending is not designed for prosperity. In a recession it’s designed to avoid a depression. ANd it does. Keynesian economics makes the point that, in a recession, consumer demand is depressed. Govt demand is just another form of demand.

          When the recession ends, it’s time to cut govt spending and pay back the debt which we did not do in the 2000-2007 years.

      • Jacksonian_Libertarian

        “Incorrect. Govt spending can create jobs since we see it everytime you see a member of the armed forces. And it’s not ‘always’ a cost unless you think roads, schools, hospitals and other investments in infrastructure add nothing to and economy”

        Maintaining an Armed Forces maybe necessary but it is definitely a cost to the economy, and that fact that there are “For Profit” roads, schools, and hospitals proves that developing infrastructure

        • bpuharic

          Not having a military also has a cost, as any country that’s been occupied can tell you. Infrastructure is a net benefit to society since all kinds of people use them regardless of ability to pay AND there are transaction costs.

          Yeah there’s proof you’re wrong about cutting govt. as the IMF just admitted regarding govt austerity in Europe. Cutting govt can, and often does, depress spending, growth, infrastructure, education,etc

          Example: my hometown of Pittsburgh was one of the last in the nation to treat its water supply. As a result, it had one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the nation. Cost of death of children?

          You tell me

          • Jacksonian_Libertarian

            “Yeah there’s proof you’re wrong about cutting govt. as the IMF just admitted regarding govt austerity in Europe.”

            Ohhhh! Well if the IMF says it’s it, it must be true, no matter what the facts are, and how much actual cutting went on. As for the cost of the military, I don’t think you understand what the word “costs” means as it is being used in a business sense as the overhead of doing business. Someone else here called you a leftist Troll “bpuharic” and I think they are correct.

          • bpuharic

            The right’s argument: “OHHH!! It didn’t come from Rush (PBUH)…it can’t be true!”

            what garbage you right win idiots believe

            You guys just dump evidence overboard like a mafia hit if it doesn’t fit your fundamentalist religious beliefs.

            That’s why you’re destroying America

  • bigfire

    Green job is simply the latest gimmick to funnel money to the favorite parasites. Don’t worry, they’ll think of something else when this thing run its course.