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A Green New Deal would be a boon for construction jobs, says report

Clean energy jobs pay better, can be tool for equity, says Brookings report


The Green New Deal has been championed as a means to address the nation’s lack of infrastructure spending, in addition to being a way to fight climate change.

Now, according to a Brookings Institution study released this morning analyzing the growth in clean energy jobs, such as retrofitting buildings or installing renewable energy systems, this type of initiative can also be a big benefit to workers. A big move towards funding and investing in more sustainable infrastructure and renewable power would be a boon for the construction industry and other trades. With great potential to promote more equitable pay and opportunity, a Green New Deal could be as much about economic health as it is about environmental benefits.

“Advancing Inclusion Through Clean Energy Jobs” takes as a given that a transition to cleaner energy is taking place. By looking at the workforce requirements for such a transition, and placing it in the context of the broad conversations taking place to shape the Green New Deal, it hopes to provides some facts and figures to inform this transition.

Overall, green jobs are good-paying jobs, according to the report. Mean hourly wages for such work exceed the national average by 8 to 19 percent, and workers at the lower-ends of the income spectrum also tend to earn more, up to $5 to $10 an hour, suggesting these industries are more equitable when it comes to fair pay.

That’s because many of the professions needed for such a transition, including sizable occupations like electricians, carpenters, and plumbers, tend to require lower educational requirements, and focus more on on-the-job training and apprenticeships. Approximately half of such workers, who have no more than a high school diploma, out-earn peers with similar educational achievements.

Workforce diversity, however, remains a challenge. Authors Mark Muro, Adie Tomer, Ranjitha Shivaram, and Joseph Kane, who all work for the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, also found that, currently, the clean jobs industry lacks diversity: of those they categorize in the clean energy workforce, only 20 percent are female, and 10 percent are black.

These two observations, they suggest, point to the potential of a Green New Deal, or similar programs, to improve opportunity: properly structured, and focused on both upskilling workers without advanced degrees and providing opportunities to underserved demographics, this type of program could be a pathway to a more equitable economy.

A broad picture of the clean energy economy

The oft cited statistic about clean energy employment—that the solar industry, with roughly 350,000 workers, employs twice as many Americans as coal—still underestimates the size of the clean energy economy.

After sorting through Bureau of Labor statistics and breaking down what is and isn’t a clean energy job, the report found three broad, and overlapping, groups of workers: clean energy production, which includes about 1.3 million workers in fields such as solar panel installation and energy transmission; energy efficiency, which employs roughly 4.4 million Americans focused on upgrading buildings and manufacturing energy-efficient products; and environmental management, which accounts for 877,000 jobs focused on conservation and regulatory positions.

The first two groups offer extensive opportunities to those in the construction field, especially electricians, plumbers, and roofers, who would be central to renewable power and retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient. Researchers found that all three groups offer a premium of at least $2 per hour on the national average hourly wage of $23.86. “Put simply, clean energy economy employment offers a competitive pay floor to many workers,” the report states.

Brookings Institution

The construction industry has been hit by a labor shortage during the current upswing in development, lacking enough skilled workers to satisfy continued demand.

How would a large-scale infrastructure plan of investment in job training take advantage of the potential of a clean energy economy? The Brookings report recommends a combination of increased STEM education (especially initiatives like Black Girls Code that are targeted at underrepresented groups), early involvement and educations programs, more investment in apprenticeships and on-the-job training, and local workforce training programs. At a time when workforce development is getting more attention from state and local governments, factoring in these developing industries and opportunities can make a difference.

“The key will be seeing clean energy as more than just a way to combat a scientific phenomenon, but also an economic opportunity,” concludes the report, “one that can benefit the labor market by promoting economic inclusion. “