Fodi September 2023

Green Jobs in the United States

Zhiyun Li, Economist, UCLA Anderson Forecast
Ioana Marinescu, Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy
Mark Curtis, Associate Professor, Wake Forest University

A Conversation with Zhiyun Li, Ioana Marinescu, and Mark Curtis


This month, we feature Zhiyun Li hosting a conversation with Ioana Marinescu and Mark Curtis on their paper about green jobs in the United States. Ioana Marinescu is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Mark Curtis is an Associate Professor at Wake Forest University. Their recent research focuses on the growth of renewable energy and how it benefits U.S. workers.

Zhiyun Li: Welcome to this edition of the UCLA Anderson Forecast Direct podcast. I'm Zhiyun Li and I'm an economist at UCLA Anderson Forecast. Today I'm very excited to have Professor Mark Curtis and Professor Ioana Marinescu as our guest speakers. Thank you both for being here today.

Mark Curtis: Thank you for having us.

Zhiyun Li: Mark is a professor at Wake Forest University's Economics Department. He studies environmental energy and labor economics to inform public policy. Professor Ioana Marinescu is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice. She is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She studies the labor market and has been a speaker before on our podcast.

Today I'd like to focus on your recent paper which I found so insightful. The title of your paper is, “Green jobs in the United States: What are they and where are they?

Mark and Ioana, could one of you start by explaining your motivation and give us a quick summary of your paper in a few sentences?

Ioana Marinescu: Yes, so you know there's been lately a growth of green jobs and also more policy interest in this area so we're really interested in trying to measure green jobs a little bit better, the number of green jobs and their characteristics and it turns out it's not so easy to do that with the typical statistics that are available and data sets that are available out there so what we do here is we use data from online job vacancies which is from Burning Glass Technologies and so this job vacancy data allows us to define green jobs based on firm's own definition of what the job is and also you know the classification allows us to go back in time to measure it from the beginning of when firms were talking about those green jobs, when they were advertising their jobs and you know briefly we find that green energy jobs tend to, by the way went by Green Energy just to clarify means solar and wind, and so for solar jobs we find that they're disproportionately in sales and for wind jobs that they are disproportionately in blue collar types of jobs and industries in particular in installation and maintenance and manufacturing. And then we also look into how well these jobs are paid and we find that green energy jobs are created in occupations that pay 20 higher wages and interestingly this paid premium is even higher for less educated workers or rather for less educated for jobs that require less education just a high school degree and not more, finally, we also find in terms of the geography of green jobs that these green jobs are disproportionately located in markets that are currently overrepresented in terms of fossil fuel production so, basically if you look for a green job, you're more likely to find it in areas where they also have fossil fuel jobs so that's our basic findings.

Zhiyun Li: Great thank you so to help our listeners have a clearer understanding of green jobs. Could you please explain how you define and identify green jobs in detail, Mark?

Mark Curtis: Yeah, absolutely, that's a great question and you know, identifying green jobs as you want to just mention this has been pretty challenging in the past. I think we have this kind of vague concept of what a green job is but it's been very difficult to have a precise way of measuring it and this has become a political issue in the past… even, do we count bicycle repairman? Do we count the folks who pick up your trash? What is a kind of green job? And so for this paper, we wanted to just narrow in on something that we feel is relatively uncontroversial in terms of what a green job is and also an area that we're seeing really big growth in so the two things that we focused on are solar and wind jobs and but even if we're going to narrow it that far down it's difficult to say with the existing data identify what our solar and wind jobs, so if you look at even the best census data that you can get, it does not have great industry and occupational ways to measure solar and wind jobs. They tend to fall into other buckets and so it's hard to extract which of those jobs are solar and wind. So, what's nice about what we can do with this paper is we are using job postings from the actual firms themselves. So together with a company called Lightcast which scrapes and formerly Burning Glass, now like us, they scrape online job postings and can classify a bunch of different categories based on those job postings. So, within those job postings, we have the job title, we have the industry, we have the occupation, we have the firm name, we have the location, a number of additional characteristics about that are within the posting itself and interestingly and importantly for this paper they list the skills/task that workers are expected to do and to have. We use the -to identify solar and wind jobs we focus on scraping these categories for the words: solar, wind, and photovoltaic. We have to be a little bit careful with the types of jobs that we have a number of false positives when you run this for the first time you get like woodwind instruments and things like that, that you don't want, so we had to be a little bit careful with how we did that and there was a number of iterations to get to this point, but the main way that we do this is we first look at the job title we say is the word solar, wind or photovoltaic in the job title, if so, it's going to be classified as a green job. Next, we look at the occupation that is listed and if the occupation has, you know solar, wind, photovoltaic we're gonna document it as a green job. And then finally we're going to use the skills and tasks to look for green jobs so if you list that maybe you're an electrician right, but it lists that you can do solar installation right, as a skill or a task we're going to count that as a green job. And then finally we're going to use some information about firms so if we see that greater than 40% of the workers within the firm are doing or what we call green jobs in either solar or wind then we're going to cut then we're going to count all of those workers in the firm as a green job. So that's kind of the primarily the way that we go through classifying and documenting the green jobs.

Zhiyun Li: Thank you so much, Professor Mark Curtis. That's a great explanation. Also, my next question is for you, Ioana. Pertaining to green jobs, you define them as solar and wind jobs and you exclude other types of green jobs, for example, hydropower, and I'm curious as to why? Does it have anything to do with the fact that though hydropower captures a large percentage of green energy generation, it actually creates less jobs in the workforce?

Mark Curtis: Hydropower is certainly a green type of inner energy and electricity production so there are very little if any carbon emissions that are coming when you use hydropower so it's certainly a green type. I think the reason that we did not focus on hydropower, and I think we could have is that you know hydropower has been pretty flat over the past say 10 years. We've in some studies they show that you know even right now there's you know roughly maybe 60,000 jobs that are in hydropower right now we're looking at maybe you know at least twice that many in wind, you know we're up to 350,000 solar jobs by a number of measures right now and so you know I think hydropower is not seeing the big increase and I think as we were thinking about this paper we were largely thinking about studying places where there really are big structural changes in the economy and at least right now hydropower is not at that place. There are some subsidies that are coming in with the new Inflation Reduction Act but for hydropower specifically, but at least over the past 10 years hydropower has been pretty steady and you're not seeing a big increase in it.

Zhiyun Li: I see, yeah that makes sense. You mentioned that in your paper the green jobs are identified from a data set, a fantastic data set on job postings. And to what extent are jobs from these postings representative of actual jobs of the overall employment in the economy?

Ioana Marinescu: Yes, so you know when you look at job postings it's important to keep in mind that we're indeed talking about job postings and so the meaning of the data is the flow of jobs so the new jobs that are being created or potentially people who are being replaced so that's important to keep in mind. But in terms of whether it's representative of the economy in general this data set from Burning Glass has been used by a number of researchers and there are multiple papers comparing it to other more representative data for example from JOLTS which is a survey of job openings and vacancies this is an official representative survey and it's very similar to that so that's the most comparable because this is about job openings. And then we can just look at whether the jobs in there are similar in terms of occupation and industry and location to other data sets like the current population survey which is used to compute the unemployment rate or the occupies employment statistics and people have found that the jobs in this data set are broadly similar along all these dimensions to this more representative data sets. And I also want to take this opportunity to say that part of what's cool with this particular data set is the idea of dynamic taxonomy update and so that's been important because in this data set when there is a new job title that appears if it happens to be a synonym with something else that was happening before the naming can change a little bit but over time they always update it backwards so that you know once the job was appearing for the first time we have a chance to capture it whereas occupational classifications they are not backward-looking so, maybe now we created a solar installer occupation and it's going to appear in our regular data but only once it's been created nobody's gonna go back and look for those people in the past and so that's an advantage of the data that we use that can better capture the dynamic of growth in those types of jobs over time.

Zhiyun Li: Thank you for the explanation. I think there's a much more accurate and creative way to identify green jobs and also, I know that you find a couple of really interesting things about green jobs when doing your analysis - could one of you start by telling us some of your findings?

Ioana Marinescu: Sure, let me talk a little bit about it. What we've done is, we've compared the green jobs against solar and wind in terms of occupation and industry to all other jobs as well as to fossil fuel jobs, and what we find is that the solar jobs and the wind jobs are very special in the sense that solar jobs for example about a third of them are in sales which is a very high proportion compared to all jobs in the economy and that for wind jobs about 50% of them are in installation and maintenance types of occupations so kind of blue collar occupations which again is very atypical for the rest of the economy. And then when you compare them to fossil fuel jobs, fossil fuel jobs are actually more similar to regular the rest of the jobs, they're not exactly the same but they're more similar, most of your jobs are more similar and these green jobs wind and solar are special in particular because of their high share of blue-collar work. Finally, we've also looked at pay, as I mentioned earlier, and what we do there is - so it turns out one limitation of our data is that we have limited information on pay because most firms don't say in their posting exactly what they're gonna pay so in order to get that roughly, what does this job pay, we match each job with the pay in the occupation that the job is in. So given that you know this job belongs to a very specific occupation, what is the average pay in this occupation based on representative data, this way we can match a pay to each job. Using that we find that these green jobs pay 20% more than other jobs, again based on what occupations they are situated in, and what's even more interesting is that you might think that they pay more because maybe they require higher education or they have some other you know requirements that make them hard for people to get that but in fact, we find that even when you restrict to jobs that require only a high school degree, jobs that require less formal education, this premium is even higher. It's 34% more, so amongst jobs that only require high school education the green jobs are created in the kinds of occupations that pay 33% more than other occupations for these types of workers. So it's very interesting to see that green jobs are generally created in higher-paying occupations and this bent toward more pay is even more true for less educated workers.

Zhiyun Li: I see thank you. So before I read your paper, I didn't realize green jobs typically get paid more than other kinds of jobs. I think that's good news for the economy. I think that it also found something really interesting that you find areas rich in pollution-intensive jobs are also rich in green jobs, can you tell us why do you think that is?

Mark Curtis: Well, it's absolutely right. You do see that the green jobs that we identify as solar wind jobs are much more likely to be located in geographic regions that have high amounts of fossil fuel employment. Why is that the case? I think it's just sheer luck honestly, I mean a kind of a geographic luck right? So I think that places where there are significant amounts of oil reserves also are places where the sun shine and I think that it's a kind of a nice geographic phenomena that this is the case. So yes, that's a big finding. We observe really strong presence of solar and wind jobs in places like Texas, in Oklahoma, and we also observe them in places like Iowa and Minnesota. Iowa and Minnesota are going to have more wind jobs. There's a lot of solar of course in other places as well so California, and Nevada, places that are not as known for their fossil fuel production, but the fact that we do observe a lot of jobs and solar and wind that are in places particularly in the middle of the country with high amounts of fossil fuel is encouraging.

Ioana Marinescu: And Mark, just to speculate, we can't tell from our paper but it may be that there are some reasons for firms. If there are energy firms, many of them invest in multiple types of energy and so if it happens that the conditions are there, like in Texas they have a lot of sun, and there's already presence of fuel energy firms, it could be that there is already at the firm level and infrastructure to expand to other types of energy so it's possible that part of it is driven by a firm-level phenomenon and the ability to for energy firms to expand their portfolio across different types of energy.

Mark Curtis: That's a great point. That's something I've been thinking a lot about actually is how firms themselves are part of the drivers of this transition that you do see a lot of within firm movement from fossil fuels to solar and I think that's something that I think is really interesting that firms that are in the energy sector already are well positioned to be making this type of transition. Anecdotally, I was just talking to a student of mine, and he was saying that his father has been essentially an oil executive his entire life in Houston, and he just recently got a job for a solar company in Houston and I was saying that his family alone marks the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

Zhiyun Li: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense and I'm thinking maybe that could also relate to state-level renewable energy policy. State that is rich in pollution-intensive jobs, there may be some policies encouraging it to transition from the pollution-intensive jobs, pollution-intensive industry to green industry, could that also be the case?

Mark Curtis: You know it certainly could be. That would make sense if you were a state and you were forward-looking. If you were a policymaker and you were forward-looking and realizing that you had a lot of fossil fuel jobs, that you would be anxious to be part of that transition and I think that it has been the case with some states. With other states, you've seen some opposition to renewable jobs. But yes, if I were a politician that would be - the forward-looking politician trying to think about my communities that would be something that would be on my radar screen.

Ioana Marinescu: It's also interesting as far as state policies and again this is just a pattern, the data, but we see quite a bit of solar in the Northeast in the area around Massachusetts and that's a little surprising because if you look at where we show in the paper maps of where there's the most sun, and I can tell you that Massachusetts is not it as part of the U.S., so plausibly the reason why there's so much solar there is linked to local policies that are promoting it.

Zhiyun Li: I see.

Mark Curtis: You can absolutely see on the map. We were just talking about the map but you can absolutely see that there are a surprising number of solar jobs in certain areas of the country and that's demand-driven so a lot of that is residential solar that you have demand from consumers for residential and then places like the Northeast and in places like California.

Zhiyun Li: Yeah, I see. So, do you think geographically this fact will make it easier for fossil fuel workers to transition into green jobs?

Ioana Marinescu: So let me say first and I'll let Mark say more about that because I know he has some work in progress on this but on a growth level some of my work has been looking into people's job application patterns and the big fact is that people really like to apply to jobs close to home. That's one of the big drivers of which jobs people prefer those are close to home and about 80 of applications are sent within the same commuting zone so this is an area where most people tend to work and commute so the geography is very important in terms of general job availability, therefore that is hopeful, however, I think we need to know more you know in terms of this is a helpful fact but we need to know more about some of those transitions and perhaps Mark can tell us more about what we know.

Mark Curtis: I'll absolutely second what Ioana just said - I think anybody who has moved knows how painful that move can be and that it's very costly for a number of reasons both financially and personally, also there are all sorts of reasons why people don't want to move and a lot of times people in academia move fairly often but I think most people do really like to stay close to home. The numbers on that are pretty surprising so you know I do think targeted policies, this really does matter, that if the jobs that we're creating in renewable energy are near where jobs are expected to be lost, that does have pretty important welfare consequences for workers and families. So getting back to thinking about the transitions that are making, I think the answer to that is that, yes, it is encouraging that a lot of these jobs are located near a lot of the green jobs near where fossil fuel-intensive jobs are. That's not true for all places so we think about, if I look at the map that we have in of West Virginia, there's not a lot of green jobs in West Virginia that we capture. There are not a lot of green jobs in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania Appalachia and those are areas with significant fossil fuel, particularly coal communities. So, I think there are areas where this transition can happen easier. There are also areas where I think this is less likely to happen. I've been working on some new research that identifies transitions using data from social profiles with Jisung Park, who's one of Ioana’s colleagues at UPenn, and we have seen a really big increase over time in workers moving from a dirty carbon-intensive job directly to a renewable job however that number is still relatively small so if you look at all workers that leave the fossil fuel industry or separate from a job in the fossil fuel industry we're finding that right now only about 1% are going to directly to a green job. A lot of those workers are still staying within the fossil fuel industry, so a lot of the transitions that are happening for fossil fuel workers are just going from one fossil fuel or dirty job to another so I think we're hopeful that as the number of green jobs grows, as the inflation reduction act grows, that there will be more of these transitions. And if you look at the graph that we have, it is increasing rapidly and I think we know with the inflation reduction act, I think that's going to continue. Another positive thing that came out of some of this research is that, and this is not something that we did in the paper with Ioana, but we're seeing these electric vehicle jobs and manufacturing jobs and green manufacturing are a place that a lot of workers are from the carbon-intensive industry are moving into and those are also expected to grow considerably so I think that right now we're still not seeing significant numbers of workers transitioning but I think that especially with the green manufacturing coming on, those skills are probably likely to align with some of the skills of folks that are in the carbon-intensive industries right now.

Zhiyun Li: Great, thank you so much, Professor Mark Curtis. I think the information in your paper is very helpful for so many and we really look forward to your future papers in this field.

And that is it for today's Forecast Direct podcast at UCLA and thank you so much Professor Mark Curtis and Professor Ioana Marinescu for being here today.