Exploding the promise of 'green jobs'

Posted in October 2011

Can we finally put to rest the idea that government creates jobs? Can everyone finally agree that "green jobs" will never be part of an economic recovery -- in Nevada or anywhere else?

There is simply no spinning or distorting the failure of one of President Obama's biggest initiatives and campaign promises. "Hope" and "Change" hinged on creating 5 million green jobs in 10 years. As a down payment, the stimulus abomination set aside billions of dollars, including a $500 million grant to train 125,000 people for the noble work of the future.

As of this summer, of the nearly 53,000 people who had completed the training at a cost of $163 million, barely 8,000 had found work. Only 1,000 had held a job for more than six months, according to a report released this month by the Labor Department's inspector general.

Is America just not ready for such new, high-tech positions heralding an age of renewable energy? Could that explain why so many people training for the jobs of the future can't find work today?

Well, no. According to the inspector general's report, some of the positions that fall under the administration's definition of "green jobs" include: forklift operator, sheet metal worker, welder, plumber, electrician, car mechanic and garbage handler.

Did you really think 5 million people in this country would hold sustainable jobs manufacturing, assembling and maintaining solar panels and wind turbines? If you do anything that could conceivably benefit the environment -- install a no-flush urinal or an energy-efficient appliance, drive a hybrid bus, collect used cooking oils, lobby against fossil fuels -- you are a green-collar worker, as far as Washington is concerned.

Those Republic Services workers who toss your recyclables into a diesel truck? Green jobs! (Why didn't they need taxpayer-funded training to learn that skill?)

Nevada's share of those federal numbers were, as you would expect for a state with the worst unemployment rate in the country, utterly dismal. The state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation got $6 million to train 7,125 workers, of which 5,238 were projected to retain employment. To date, the department has spent $147,408 training 375 people. And just four of them have managed to hold a job.

Far from creating new jobs, the government is wasting piles of money reclassifying jobs.

In a related initiative, according to the Labor Department report, the state spent almost $3.7 million on software and program upgrades, with no new positions resulting -- unless you consider the public employees who disburse the greenbacks as having "green jobs."

This particular boondoggle is separate from another epic stimulus giveaway: weatherization grants. Making the homes of lower-middle and lower-class residents more energy-efficient was seen as a win-win by the Obama administration and the Nevada Legislature's Democratic majorities: It would save those residents a few bucks a month on utility bills and buy their votes in future elections.

The state employment department awarded $1.57 million in grants to train people in weatherization skills, such as putting in insulation, snapping on solar screens, weather-stripping, caulking, fixing broken windows, inspecting appliances -- the kind of stuff a apprentice learns in a couple of days. And the Nevada Housing Division was allocated some $37 million to weatherize houses.

But Nevada already had a glut of out-of-work, unionized construction workers who could do the job in their sleep.

So you'll never guess what happened. Existing construction workers did almost all the work -- some $31 million worth so far. Of the 683 people who completed Nevada's weatherization training program, only 191 found jobs -- many of them in areas other than weatherization. And an undetermined number of those 683 already had construction jobs and used the program to pick up a free certification.

The state employment department stopped funding the training programs in July 2010 because "there was a far greater supply of workers than demand for those job opportunities," Nevada Housing Division spokeswoman Hilary Lopez said.

No demand for new green jobs? Say it ain't so!

Through July of this year, 7,752 Nevada homes had been weatherized at a cost of nearly $4,000 per home. (That's a lot of weather-stripping!) Whether these handouts will offer any return on investment through utility savings remains to be seen. As part of the program, state inspectors have to verify that contractors have done the work they reported, then help homeowners track their energy usage to see if it's done any good.

Did this initiative create any jobs? Yes, but only temporary ones. Using federal Office of Management and Budget calculations -- which appear to be as mysterious and proprietary as the formulas used to determine your credit score -- the Nevada Housing Division estimates that, month to month, the weatherization program created and/or retained up to 44 jobs among subgrantees (nonprofit program administrators) and up to 53 jobs among contractors.

But when the weatherization program funds are exhausted, likely by the end of this year, those few jobs will be history. In an area where three-quarters of homeowners are underwater on their mortgages, who in their right mind would spend $4,000 on any home improvement, let alone weatherization, especially when they might not have a job in another year?

At least Nevada managed to actually weatherize a lot of homes. Another stimulus weatherization initiative, called Retrofit Ramp-Up, handed out $452 million to 25 cities. Seattle collected $20 million of that with the goal of creating 2,000 green jobs. After a year, Seattle had weatherized just three homes, creating 14 new jobs, mostly administrative. Other cities were a bust, too.

Billions of dollars down the toilet for temporary jobs. A House Oversight Committee report estimates that each green job costs taxpayers about $157,000. A Government Accountability Office report says 47 overlapping federal employment and training programs cost $18 billion per year without measuring whether they work.

Last month, in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, "Attention Deficit Democracy" author James Bovard pointed out that the federal government has rolled out job-training programs for half a century. "The record is one of failure and scandal," resulting in actual earnings losses for many participants.

"If federal job training efforts worked, Congress would not have thrown out the programs it has created every decade or so and enacted new ones," Bovard wrote. "In reality, government training has always been driven by bureaucratic convenience, or politicians' re-election considerations. There is no reason to believe the latest round of proposals will be any different."

Want to create permanent jobs? Get government out of the way.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.


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