The 5 Million Green Jobs That Weren't

Obama pledged to create millions of clean-energy jobs. How close did he get?
The promise: 5 million green jobs Photograph by Brea Souders for Bloomberg Businessweek; Source:

In 2008 candidate Barack Obama promised to create 5 million green jobs. He laid out a plan to invest $150 billion over 10 years that would advance a clean-energy economy built around biofuels, hybrid cars, low-emission coal plants, and renewable sources such as solar and wind. How many has he actually created?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking green jobs two years ago, but it counts only how many existed as of the end of 2010. It doesn’t keep a running total of newly created jobs, so there’s no way to tell how many existed before Obama’s election. The Brookings Institution also has a tally, but it too goes only through 2010, and of the nearly 2.7 million green jobs it identifies, most were bus drivers, sewage workers, and other types of work that don’t fit the “green jobs of the future” that Obama imagined. The report does zero in on cleantech, which includes the wind, solar, fuel-cell, and smart-grid industries. In 2010, Brookings shows, there were 184,699 such jobs nationwide—up 2,642 since the president took office in 2009.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 set aside $90 billion in renewable energy grants and loans for a grab bag of thousands of projects—wind farms, solar installations, natural gas fueling stations, biofuel research, and a $5 billion weatherization project for low-income homes. Digging into the public records of the $21 billion spent so far through 19 U.S. Department of Energy programs reveals 3,960 projects that employ 28,854 people.

That’s not 5 million. In November 2010, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers said federal recovery spending had “saved or created” 225,000 clean-energy jobs, including “both the direct jobs of people involved in the construction of a particular project and also the jobs generated by the additional economic activity sparked by these projects.”

There’s no way to know whether this multiplier effect really resulted in the number the administration claims. But if you take it as true and generously assume similar growth for 2011 and 2012, that’s 675,000 jobs created at best—and 4,325,000 to go.

Sources: BLS, Brookings Institution, Council of Economic Advisers

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