Green Collar Jobs Analyzed

When “green collar” jobs became a buzzword in the mid-2000s, many thought it was the wave of the future. And for a while, it was: there was a surge in environmentally oriented activity in the world’s biggest economies and even several developing ones. About a decade on, however, the trend seems to have hit a plateau, at least in the US. Only 2.4 percent of Americans were employed in green jobs in 2010, much lower than projected, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On the bright side, the growth has been steady, albeit small, and green jobs have spread so that there are options for aspiring green collars anywhere. The study considered jobs in sectors focused on producing renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recycling, reducing pollution, and conserving natural resources.

Only six states had more than 100,000 green jobs reported, the report showed. California had the most with 338,400 jobs, with New York a distant second with 248,500. The rest include Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio. This doesn’t necessarily make them the greenest job markets, though: since they’re also among the largest states, the numbers are understandable.

In terms of how much of the total jobs were classified as green, Vermont led the pack with a ratio of 4.4 percent. Following close were D.C. and Idaho with 3.9 and 3.7 percent respectively. Other top rankers include Maryland, Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and Pennsylvania, all of which had ratios above 3 percent.

An analysis from The Atlantic magazine suggests that the green job market depends largely upon income and education. States with a higher median income and whose population has a large percentage of college graduates tend to have more green jobs. An even stronger correlation was found between green jobs and knowledge-based and creative economies—states with a large market for research, recreation, and the arts. Subsequently, states where unskilled workers are numerous have much fewer green-collar employment options.

What the numbers could mean is that more green jobs might come along, but will not necessarily open up opportunities for lower-skilled workers, nor will it make much of a difference in industrialized states. It might have something to do with the financial crisis as staying afloat overtakes environmental thrusts in the private sector, but as the economy stabilizes over the next few years, more green collar jobs may open up for a wider range of workers.


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