Climate Voices

July 22, 2011
By: SustainUS

Will Green Jobs be YOUTH jobs?

Just in case our 5 years of swarming state capitals decked out in green hard hats, running campaigns calling for more jobs in clean energy, and vowing to only vote for candidates who support renewable energy companies hasn’t made it clear — youth really want more green jobs.


Author: Co-authored by Kyle Gracey and Michael Davidson, SustainUS

Green JobsJust in case our 5 years of swarming state capitals decked out in green hard hats, running campaigns calling for more jobs in clean energy, and vowing to only vote for candidates who support renewable energy companies hasn’t made it clear — youth really want more green jobs.

While young people have been some of the biggest advocates for green jobs, no one has really tried to answer the question of whether green jobs will be youth jobs? Will more green jobs mean more jobs for youth, or will young people miss out on the very green jobs we’ve worked so hard to create?

So far, the answer has been “we don’t know.” That’s because, despite all of the green jobs studies ( “Low Carbon Jobs,” “Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable,” “Low-Carbon World,” “Tackling the Climate and Economic Crisis,” “Job Opportunities for the Green Economy, Rail Vehicles for Intercity Passenger Rail and Urban Transit” & “Green Jobs Study“) that have been done, none of them has really looked at the different kinds of people who actually get green jobs (one exception is for income and education level). This is especially true across different races, ethnicities, genders, and, yeah, ages. So, we set out to change that, writing the first study we know of to look at youth access to green jobs, and also the first written by youth.

Building on Kyle’s earlier research (“Green Jobs: Who Benefits?” & “Is This the Face of Green Jobs?“) on green jobs demographics, we looked at the industries where the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (which finally has the resources to take green jobs seriously) says the most green jobs companies are, and compared that to data on the industries most young people work in. You can see the full results in our paper, but they’re not great:

Green Jobs Table Graphic

Basically, industries with the most green jobs, like construction (doing energy efficient building retrofits, for example), don’t employ young people who have jobs (here the BLS defines youth as ages 18-24). And the industries that do employ a lot of young people, like retail (and every young person’s favorite job, food service!), have some of the lowest rates of green jobs companies, less than a percent of all green jobs firms. Considering that youth unemployment is even higher than average unemployment, that’s pretty crappy news for all those youth looking to make a difference through a steady job.

To be fair, the data we have only tells us how many green jobs companies there are, not how many actual jobs there are (BLS is surveying total numbers of jobs now, hoping to finish by 2012), and the numbers probably look a little better for youth aged 25-29.

Does that mean more green jobs won’t create jobs for youth? No.

For one thing, tons of studies suggest that investments and policies that support renewable energy, energy efficiency, and solutions to climate change create more jobs overall, compared to equivalent support for fossil fuels and fossil fuel jobs. Just having more jobs total should mean at least some extra jobs for youth, even if most of those green jobs go to older workers. Youth are also not heavily employed in fossil fuel and mining sectors, meaning we will be less hurt by these shifts in investments.

For another, just having more older workers with green jobs (when they used to be unemployed) will create some jobs for youth. That’s because people who are getting paid, when they used to be out of work, also start spending money when they couldn’t before. And they spend that money at places like clothing stores and restaurants — places that employ a lot of young people — and those places start hiring more workers as their business picks up (these are called either indirect or induced jobs). These might not be green jobs directly, and they may not pay the kinds of wages youth need to prosper, but they’re at least an improvement over no job.

But lastly, and most importantly, pushing for green jobs today will mean more green jobs tomorrow. Even if our generation isn’t claiming the majority of green jobs today, you can bet we will soon, as we become the biggest generation in the workforce, becomes innovators helping to solve our energy and climate crises, and move into the age range with the most green employment.

Even putting aside other benefits, like fighting climate change and helping other people find decent work, that’s reason enough for youth to fight for more green jobs.

Michael Davidson was a SustainUS youth delegate to the Cancun climate negotiations in December 2010. He is the China Climate Fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC, where he examines the dynamic U.S.-China energy and environment relationship and supports NRDC’s Earth Summit 2012 campaign. Previously, he was a Fulbright Fellow in Beijing and holds degrees in Physics and Japanese Studies from Case Western Reserve University.

The study — “Green Jobs for Youth: A Preliminary Analysis of Youth in the Green Economy” — is our own work and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or endorsements of the places we work for.