What the Heck is a Green Job Anyway?

Recently, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics requested comments on how it should try to measure “green jobs.”  Here are the comments I offered:

I am writing in response to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) request for comments on its measurement of “green” jobs.  My comment could be summarized in one word: DON’T.

Traditionally, BLS has counted employment in very well-defined technical categories – mostly categories of industry (what goods are being produced or what service is provided) and occupation (the type of work being done).  However, by creating a category of “green” jobs, BLS will be imposing an arbitrary distinction on employment conveying a value judgment. 

By attempting to define green, or “environmentally friendly” jobs, BLS is conveying a pejorative connation to other occupations and industries.  Should we call these “brown jobs,” or just jobs that are not environmentally friendly?  Put succinctly, BLS would be identifying “good” jobs, to differentiate them from “bad” jobs.

By creating a category of green jobs, BLS is opening a Pandora ‘s Box in which special interests will immediately begin lobbying to be included in the BLS definition of “green.”  It is likely that such a designation by BLS will enable certain firms and sectors of the economy to seek federal, state, and local government grants or tax breaks for “creating green jobs.”

In this light, BLS will cease to be a neutral collector of employment data, but rather an adjudicator, weighing the value of identified occupations and industries, and bestowing its highly sought-after designation on those it favors.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer our comments on this issue.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan A. Benefield
Director of Policy Research
Commonwealth Foundation