Green jobs: Don’t buy the hype?


“Green jobs” is often a quick answer to the question of Minnesota’s employment future. It’s what everyone wants. State officials are starting to count green job growth and it’s a high priority for Twin Cities mayors.

But if you’ve been giddy about green jobs driving the new economy, a new Minneapolis Fed analysis will sober you up fast.

Yes, leave it to the guys at the Fed to detail why your conventional wisdom about green jobs and the future is wrong.

Below are the highlights from the Fed report.If you’re a visual learner here’s the way the Fed sees it.

That would be a green balloon about to be pierced by a sharp instrument.

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The Fed, for instance, knows there’s love for wind turbines on the windy plains and notes a Minnesota 2020 report claiming that if done right, the wind industry “can create thousands of jobs, [and] revive the economic base of many Minnesota communities hit hard by the recession.”

But, says Fed writer Ron Wirtz, “There’s just one little annoyance: As a job creator, wind power doesn’t pack much punch….”

Xcel Energy has the most wind-generated power of any utility in the country, yet “it’s really hard to quantify” the effect of the green movement specifically on company employment, said Beth Chacone, environmental policy manager for Xcel. “I know [the green economy] gets a lot of press, but we’re not sure there is job creation.”

Even the generally upbeat folks at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development aren’t sanguine about green jobs driving the state’s future.

State labor market analyst Steve Hine tells the Fed:

…green jobs appear to be the latest in a long line of economic silver bullets — new sectors with clear promise that got exaggerated beyond their real potential.

“Ten years ago, high-tech was the ticket to never-ending economic growth,” said Hine. Health care, biotech and telecom have also had a turn. These have been important economic developments, but they also have limits.

The enthusiasm for green “is not a new thing,” he said. “It’s a grasp for the next new thing.”


If you’re still thinking about green as an employment salvation, the report also details the, er, creative art of defining a green job. It’s not pretty.

“Measurement idiosyncrasies,” says Wirtz, “suggest that bold estimates for new green jobs have a methodological thumb on the scale.

“Add it all up, and those hoping for a green makeover might be disappointed if they are expecting a sea change in how the broader economy looks and acts.”

It’s a terrific analysis. Reporters love puncturing conventional wisdom, so I’m compelled to stand back and applaud the Fed’s methods and detail.

It’s an important message policy makers and others need to hear. Money’s getting spent to retrain people hurt in the recession for “green jobs”.

The competition among cities and states to spend money to attract green jobs is picking up speed. The Twin Cities “Thinc.GreenMSP” effort is “an unprecedented economic-development partnership between the two cities to retain, grow and attract green-manufacturing businesses and jobs” in the metro area.

The Minneapolis Fed’s analysis ought to force us all to ask if the Green Jobs promise is worth the hype.

Take a look at the Fed research and listen to Wirtz in the video below. Then post below or drop us a line directly and tell us what you’re seeing when it comes to green jobs in Minnesota.

  • Jon

    Stop me if I’m wrong, but Xcel buys a lot of wind-generated power, but they own very little of it. Therefore, they haven’t had to install or maintain much of it. So, it’d be unlikely that it would be noticeable in their employment ranks. A better indicator would be to talk to the people who actually own and maintain it about how many people they employ. Another way to go would be to ask the Port of Duluth how business would be up there if they did not have the turbines being off loaded (I hear it is a big chunk of their time).

    I agree that Green Jobs are not the recovery keystone. Our state’s and nation’s problems are big and complex. If anyone tells you there is a simple fix or “silver bullets” for almost any of our problems, that person likely does not actually understand the problem, is not being honest with you and/or is running for office.

    But our state has no fossil fuel sources. The more our own dollars are used to buy electricity and fuel created from sources available in Minnesota, the more a portion of those dollars are going to bounce around inside our state. Maybe it is not the end all, be all, but its sure better than what we’ve been doing.

  • John O.

    In short, one cannot clearly delineate what a “green job” actually is. A contractor who specializes in installing solar panels? Ding! Green job.

    Would a person working at a nuclear power plant be classified as a “green job?” An auto worker? A truck driver? A railroad engineer or conductor? All open for debate.

    Like so many other things in our economy, there are shades of green in and across many occupations, but relatively few occupations everyone completely agrees are REALLY “green.”

  • Bob Moffitt

    Much of my work lately involves E85, biodiesel (and more recently) electric vehicles. So yes, I would say I have a “green” job.

  • Dale W.

    Our organziation did a System Dynamics computer model a few years ago that demonstrated that the job creation for wind is pretty minimal. In fact, when the fossil fuel jobs eliminated are considered, over time there is actually a reduction in jobs nationally, even though there is an increase at the local level. After construction is complete, permanent job creation in wind is pretty minimal.

    Howver, when you look at a broader definition of green, including the jobs created by the new wealth coming from local production of energy, and local manufactuing of equipment, there is very good potential for both job and economic wealth creation. It is a good thing and something we should pursue.