Green jobs are all just a mirage

Generation O, the group of young people that propelled President Barack Obama to victory in 2008, is demanding more jobs, the greener the better.

Generation O has been taught that government investments in green energy — an expansive term that embraces renewable energy, pollution reduction and conservation — will create jobs in America, lots of jobs. Now students are finding out that story so far is green science fiction.

At a hearing Wednesday before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, the Energy Department inspector general and a Labor Department assistant inspector general testified that many funds authorized by Congress to create green jobs remained unspent.

And if spent, funds yielded meager results.

Elliot Lewis, the Labor Department’s assistant inspector general for audit, testified that six months into their jobs, only 2.5 percent of individuals enrolled in the department’s green jobs training programs were still employed in jobs for which they were trained.

Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman testified that as of late October, 45 percent of the Department’s 2009 stimulus bill funds for green energy had not been spent, because few “shovel ready” projects existed.

The two inspector generals’ testimony shows why green jobs programs have not increased employment.

As of June 30, the Labor Department had awarded $490 million of the $500 million provided by Congress for the green jobs program to state workforce agencies, community colleges and nonprofits.

Yet almost three-quarters of the way into the program, grantees had spent only $163 million, about a third of their funds.

Department funds trained workers in green jobs such as hybrid- and electric-car auto mechanics, weatherization of buildings and solar panel installation. Other workers received job referrals and training in basic workforce readiness skills.

Out of 53,000 people served by the programs, 47,000 enrolled in training. Of them, 26,000 completed training, and 8,000 found jobs. Of the 8,000, only 1,366 were employed six months later.

With only 1,336 trainees employed after six months, my simple mathematical calculation yields a taxpayer cost of $121,257 per job.

Perhaps it was a good thing, given the meager results, that so little was actually spent.

Lewis recommended that any of the unspent $327 million that was not being used by the states be returned to the Treasury.

The Energy Department had similar problems spending stimulus funds, according to Friedman. Out of the Energy Delivery and Energy Reliability program, $2.6 billion, or 57 percent, was unspent.

And when funds were spent, work was often poorly performed. In one state, 9 out of 17 weatherized homes failed inspection due to substandard workmanship. In another, a subcontractor gave preference to relatives and employees, even though the target population was elderly and handicapped residents.

Friedman explained that state and local government were unprepared to receive the grants. “Not to make light of a serious situation, but it was like attaching a lawn hose to a fire hydrant,” he said. “The governments were overwhelmed.”

Brett McMahon, vice president of construction company Miller & Long, displayed photographs of two toilets, an old and a new, and said that green jobs were no different from other jobs.

McMahon told members that “a great deal of effort and tax dollars have gone for the purpose of convincing the public that the plumber who installs the low-flow toilet should now be called a green- collar plumber, and that the new label should count as a new job.”

Unfortunately, few new jobs are to be had. When looking for work, Generation O is learning the hard way that taxpayer money spent on green jobs is just money down the drain.

Examiner columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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