Green jobs or, as our president calls them, the "jobs of the future" have been notoriously tough to define and count. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently did it, though, and now it is the results that are notorious.
Though tasked with an admittedly difficult project, the BLS created a definition of green jobs that is so broad as to make it a meaningless measure of the green economy. Here's a sneak preview: There are 33 times as many green jobs in the septic tank and portable toilet servicing industry as in solar electricity utilities.
The meaninglessness of the green-jobs count has not stopped cheerleaders for green mandates and subsidies from pointing to it as justification for more of the same. They point to the nearly 500,000 green jobs in the manufacturing sector. Maybe they have visions of 500,000 people assembling windmills and hybrid cars.
If so, they need to put away the rose-colored glasses, get out the green eyeshades and look at the data in the BLS report. The largest green-job producers within manufacturing are steel mills. Over 50 percent of all jobs in steel mills are counted as green — not because the steel goes to make green products, but because most of our steel is made from scrap steel.
That's right; most of our steel is recycled steel. And according to Part 3 of the BLS definition, if you recycle, your job is green. The trend toward greater use of scrap steel, however, has been going on for decades and is not the result of green subsidies.
So what do the jobs of the future look like? Here are some industries and the number of green jobs reported by the BLS:
School bus and employee transportation (private): 160,896
Waste collection: 116,293
Used-merchandise stores: 106,865
Engineering services: 100,847
Architectural services: 71,891
It looks like the new green economy the president promised tilts more toward driving school buses, picking up trash and working at Goodwill — not designing green buildings and high-tech equipment, as most people imagine.
Yes, many categories include jobs that are high-tech enough and a deep enough shade of green to justify their inclusion. But those jobs are diluted with so many others that the total cannot be used in any debate regarding the importance of green jobs to our economy or the effectiveness of green-jobs policies.
One reporter gushed about the 44,000 green jobs in the electric utility industry. However, more than 80 percent of those green jobs are in the nuclear-sector alone — a sector not universally loved by the environmental movement. In addition, since we have not licensed and built a new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years, those jobs are not part of any new-economy trend. At least not yet.
The jobs numbers contain a final irony: Social advocacy organizations can claim 20,704 green jobs, while the renewable portion of the electric power generation industry (wind, solar, biomass and geothermal) had only 4,700 green jobs. So, it looks as if more people have jobs promoting green energy than have jobs making green energy.
Unfortunately, five times as many lobbyists as workers does sound like the economy of the future.
David Kreutzer is the research fellow in energy economics and climate change at The Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis.