Will Biden's "Green Jobs" Really Pay Over $100,000?

(AP PHOTO)
Last week EconWatch mentioned a "green jobs" event that Vice President Joe Biden convened in Philadelphia.

One comment that the vice president made is worth highlighting. Workers who made $20 an hour before a green jobs training program can make $50 an hour after, Biden said.

If true, that would be pretty remarkable. A job that pays $50 an hour pays roughly $104,000 a year. That's a handsome salary, especially as layoffs are rising and the economy is shrinking.

Biden said: "In L.A. there is electrical training (through) a labor-management partnership, jointly sponsored by a union in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and a business coalition of private contractors... In some of these programs, apprentices can be making $20 an hour; when they graduate, they can be making as much as $50 an hour in some of these undertakings."

A 33-page report that the White House released on Friday lists these as "green" occupations: electricians who install solar panels; plumbers who install solar water heaters; farmers engaged in organic agriculture and some bio-fuel production; and construction workers who build energy-efficient green buildings, wind power farms, solar farms and wave energy farms. (The report also expresses confidence that "green jobs are more likely to be union jobs than other jobs.")

It seems a bit unlikely that those occupations will necessarily yield so-called green jobs that pay six-figure salaries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that construction workers averaged $40,000 a year. Plumbers made a median salary of $42,700 a year.

Will plumbers be able to make 2.5 times their current salary by installing solar water heaters instead of electric- or gas-powered water heaters? Does building "green" buildings (using different materials or installing high-efficiency windows and insulation) pay 2.5 as much?

Probably not. Later in his speech, Biden said: "According to the president's... Council of Economic Advisers, green jobs will pay 10 to 20 percent more than other jobs of a similar nature; 10 to 20 percent more."

It would be useful to review the assumptions behind even that estimate. Still, it's probably significantly closer to reality.
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    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

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