Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Green Jobs Fail

One of the big promises from the Obama campaign back in aught-eight was his green jobs initiative. Using stimulus money and other programs, Obama was going to create millions and millions of good paying jobs, pulling us out of the recession. In general terms, while we may not officially be in a recession any longer, the green jobs boom certainly has not happened.

Speaking in specifics, here in Seattle, a $20 million grant was provided by the federal government to invest in weatherization. The goal was to weatherize 2,000 low-income homes and create 2,000 “living wage jobs.” That has been an absolute bust.

…more than a year later, Seattle’s numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only trhee homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.

“The jobs haven’t surfaced yet,” says Michael Woo, director of Got Green, a Seattle community organizing group focused on the environment and social justice.

“It’s been a very slow and tedious process. It’s almost painful, the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got the jobs. There’s been no real investment for the broader public.” (Source: KOMO News)

Is it really all that surprising that a government attempt at creating jobs has failed so miserably? When are the progressives going to understand that government does not make jobs? Yes, there are government employees, and these folks are necessary (some or a lot, but certainly not all) for the business of running a government. But as for creating jobs, the government fails every time. You can look back into history. The huge government programs back in the 1930s didn’t really create long-lasting jobs. These were project jobs. Once the project was complete, the jobs were done.

By the time Seattle won the award (grant), homeowners were battered by unemployment and foreclosures. The long-term benefits of energy upgrades lacked the tangible punch of a new countertop. And the high number of unemployed construction workers edged out new weatherization installers for the paltry number of jobs. (Source: KOMO News)

This is a classic reason why the government should not be in the business of trying to create jobs. The inertia of government does not allow for changing gears (as it were) when conditions change. Former mayor Greg Nickels initially applied for the grant back before the recession took hold. But when the economy took a nose dive, the government wasn’t able (or willing? Seattle is, after all, a very liberal city and huge supporter of Obama) to respond by pulling back the money for a program that was not going to work well even under the best of circumstances. Private businesses, driven by profits and solvency, either would have adjusted to the changes, or would have been out of business. (FYI: Nickels was the mayor who would not let Seattle street crews put down salt on the roads during the worst snowstorm to hit the region in several decades. His fear was that the salt would run off into Puget Sound, which, of course, is a body of salt water. Instead, he allowed the crews to put down sand which created a huge amount of silt.)

Also at issue here is how the money is to be used. The weatherization program had two major goals: create decent paying jobs for folks and to weatherize low-income homes. As has already been pointed out, neither of these goals has even come close to being achieved. However, some weatherization projects have occurred.

The buildings that have gotten financing so far include the Washington Athletic Club and a handful of hospitals, a trend that concerns community advocates who worry the program isn’t helping lower-income homeowners.

“Who’s benefitting from this program right now – it doesn’t square with what the aspiration was,” Said Howard Greenwich, the policy director of Puget Sound Sage, an economic-justice group. He urged the city to revisit it social-equity goals. (Source: KOMO News)

It is true that some of the money was earmarked for larger-scale project such as those mentioned above. But the whole reason behind the program was to create jobs and to weatherize low-income housing. Put this under the category of FAIL.

To close, I’d like to do some quick math for you. The city of Seattle was given $20 million to create jobs with the weatherization program. If the goal of 2,000 jobs created had been reached (far-fetched in my opinion), then this program would have cost the government $10K per job. But with only 14 jobs created so far (and no more really in sight) the government has spent roughly $1.4 million per job. I realize that a government cannot run like a business, it has just too many varied and unique functions to perform. But $1.4 million per job? That is even wasteful by Obama and progressive standards.

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