BLS Study Shows 3.1 Million Green Jobs in America

The new Green Jobs study from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the most credible and nonpartisan source for this type of data, shows us two things:

First, with 3.1 million green jobs, this sector is alive and extremely well, providing a helpful boost to our rebuilding economy.  Second, any reports on the death of clean energy and green jobs were quite a bit early, and quite a bit exaggerated.

Green jobs have tremendous benefits to the workers who hold them, our environment and our country.  And it is these benefits that illustrate why we are investing in a green economy and why we need to continue that commitment moving forward.

Among the highlights of the study:

  • 3.1 million jobs in the U.S. are in the green economy.  This builds on a previous Brookings study that had a different methodology (but used primarily the same data sources) to calculate 2.7 million workers in the clean economy, and an earlier Department of Commerce study from 2010 (again with a different methodology) that found between 1.8 million and 2.4 million green jobs.

    By comparison, the oil and gas sector creates slightly less than 2.2. million jobs according the API, the leading oil industry trade group.  With nearly 13 million Americans unemployed, every job is important, but if we’re arguing economic benefits and growth, it's noteworthy that the green economy provides over 30% more jobs than the oil and gas sector. 

  • Manufacturing jobs in the green economy account for nearly 500,000 jobs, “the most among any private sector industry” according to BLS.  
  • For those concerned about the role of the Federal government in the green economy, only 5% of the jobs in this sector were with the Federal government.   Local government accounted for the largest portion of public sector employment (476,500), with mass transit employees representing half of those jobs (228,900).
  • California had the most green jobs (338,400) followed by New York (248,500), Texas (229,700), Pennsylvania (182,000), Illinois (139,800) and Ohio (126,900).  Interestingly, the oil and gas sector has a strong presence in most of those states, and I imagine quite bit of energy-related political advertising will be running in the key swing states of PA, IL and OH during the election.  

During this multi-year process, BLS settled on a recognized green jobs definition used by other groups, and surveyed over 100,000 companies that met a criteria of being companies that either produced “green” goods or providing “green services”.  The study marks the first time that the BLS has released a concrete survey of jobs in the “green goods and services” sectors of the American economy, and it will be a useful tool to measure progress (and settle arguments) moving forward, as BLS plans annual updates.

Here are my three key takeaways from this study.

With 3.1 million jobs, the BLS study demonstrates the obvious - that green jobs are real, and critical to our rebuilding economy.  It cannot be emphasized strongly enough, especially to the naysayers and critics, that with 3.1 million jobs, this is a very real sector, employing millions of Americans while helping to improve our health and environment.   With nearly 13 million Americans out of work right now, the green economy is putting people back to work.

More importantly, the green economy represents a major growth opportunity for America moving forward.  Keep in mind that many of these segments are relatively new and have only really been a market presence for a decade or two at most (e.g. clean technologies, efficiency, sustainable products, pollution remediation, etc.).  Other studies, such as the Brookings Clean Economy study, or the E2 Clean Energy Jobs newsletter, are already finding evidence of strong growth in critical segments of the green economy, many of them these new sectors.   Moreover, every other country in the world is also focusing on developing their own green economy, which will provide plenty of demand globally for goods and services of the green economy, and a lot of export opportunities for us if we can take leadership in this sector. 

These are good jobs for workers and these are good jobs for America.  Certainly the green economy is contributing to reduced pollution and protecting public health – which are critical priorities.  But the BLS study also highlights how the green economy isn’t just about keeping kids safe, and our environment clean, it’s also about jobs and rebuilding our economy.  Today’s green economy is providing stable, high-paying jobs in sectors that are growing rapidly around the world.  Further, most of these jobs can’t be outsourced (think those in mass transit or pollution remediation, or building retrofits or installing a solar panel), and many of these jobs, especially the 462,000 in the manufacturing sector, are a critical part of American economic resurgence.  These are great jobs for our economy as well – providing jobs that reduce pollution, protect public health, and build a cleaner, more prosperous future.  These are the types of jobs we want to support and promote.

Importance of continuing to commit to and invest in these green industries.  Over the last few years, we’ve invested tremendously in key components of the green economy, helping America to regain leadership in these sectors.  However, many of these investments were one-time only, and we face the challenge of continuing that commitment to growing this sector.  In general, a one-time investment is not the way to grow a long-term and sustained economy - certainty is critical.  To take advantage of the opportunities and benefits described above (a cleaner environment, improved public health, more jobs and long-term economic growth), it will be vital that we continue our commitment to and investment in the green economy.