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]