Right Wing Makes Use Of NY Times' Shoddy Report On Green Jobs

A New York Times/Bay Citizen article cherry-picked statistics from a Brookings Institution report and reportedly misrepresented interviews to call the goal of creating 5 million green jobs in 10 years a “pipe dream.” Conservative media have seized upon the Times article to claim that “even” the “left” agrees that investment in green jobs is a “a waste of money and time.”

NY Times Cherry-Picks Data From Brookings Report

New York Times Article Downplayed Green Jobs Growth. On August 19, the New York Times published an article by The Bay Citizen, which provides coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area for The Times. The article claimed that “federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed” and that President Obama's pledge to create 5 million green jobs in 10 years appears to be “a pipe dream.” The article also cited a recent Brookings Institution report:

A study released in July by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more -- 2.2 percent -- in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay, where the unemployment rate in June was 10.5 percent. [New York Times, 8/18/11]

Times Article Asserted Without Context That Green Jobs Make Up “Just” 2 Percent Of The Economy. As quoted above, the Times article stated that Brookings “found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide.” In fact, that figure refers to what Brookings calls the “clean economy,” of which clean-technology is one segment. Moreover, the Brookings report stated that the clean economy “employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry”:

The clean economy, which employs some 2.7 million workers, encompasses a significant number of jobs in establishments spread across a diverse group of industries. Though modest in size, the clean economy employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry and bulks larger than bioscience but remains smaller than the IT-producing sectors. Most clean economy jobs reside in mature segments that cover a wide swath of activities including manufacturing and the provision of public services such as wastewater and mass transit. A smaller portion of the clean economy encompasses newer segments that respond to energy-related challenges. These include the solar photovoltaic (PV), wind, fuel cell, smart grid, biofuel, and battery industries. [Brookings Institution, July 2011, emphasis original]

Columbia Journalism Review: Times Article Used “Selective Quotation From The [Brookings] Report.” The Columbia Journalism Review's Curtis Brainard wrote:

It's a selective quotation from the report that supports the thesis presented in the article's headline: “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises”--although it's likely the Times wrote the headline to suit the Bay Citizen's reporting. The Brookings report repeatedly acknowledges than such jobs are, for now, a “modest slice” of the US total, it is actually quite sanguine about progress in the “clean economy” and prospects for future growth.

“The clean economy increasingly looks like a promising location for the emergence of significant new technologies, processes, and industries that will shape the next economy and generate new jobs...” the report says, “Though modest in size, the clean economy employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry...”


The Bay Citizen omitted other important caveats, such has the fact that the fastest-growing, albeit smallest, sectors of the green economy (those clean-tech jobs) are “producing a desirable array of jobs, including in manufacturing and export-oriented fields.” Or that, “The clean economy offers more opportunities and better pay for low-skilled workers than the national economy as a whole.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 8/26/11]

Times Article Missed Brookings' Distinction Between “Clean Economy” Jobs And Clean Technology Jobs. Among other California green jobs establishments, the Times article discusses both a solar panel manufacturer and a planned wind farm and downplays their job creation potential. The article also cites Brookings' conclusions about the number of clean economy jobs nationally and in the South Bay. But the Brookings report distinguishes between the “clean economy” and the smaller sub-sector of new clean energy establishments. The Times article ignores Brookings' conclusion that these newer clean energy segments added jobs at a torrid pace":

Overall, today's clean economy establishments added half a million jobs between 2003 and 2010, expanding at an annual rate of 3.4 percent. This performance lagged the growth in the national economy, which grew by 4.2 percent annually over the period (if job losses from establishment closings are omitted to make the data comparable). However, this measured growth heavily reflected the fact that many longer-standing companies in the clean economy especially those involved in housing- and building-related segments--laid off large numbers of workers during the real estate crash of 2007 and 2008, while sectors unrelated to the clean economy (mainly health care) created many more new jobs nationally. At the same time, newer clean economy establishments--especially those in young energy-related segments such as wind energy, solar PV, and smart grid--added jobs at a torrid pace, albeit from small bases [Brookings Institution, July 2011, emphasis added]

NRDC: Times Article “Uses A Few Local Data Points Without Context And A Limited Reading” Of The Brookings Study. Cai Steger of the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out that the Times article cherry-picked information from the Brookings report. For instance, the article reported that the South Bay area lost clean economy jobs from 2003-2010 while ignoring that the surrounding metro area added jobs “by more than 44% in that time”:

Having just gotten back from a quick tour of Michigan and Ohio, and seen some of the early returns from our growing clean economy, I find this recent NY Times piece frustrating. In it, the author uses a few local data points without context and a limited reading of a recent study to claim that “green jobs” are a mirage. On closer review, it's a local piece from a San Francisco paper, picked up by the Times.


I've read the Brookings report multiple times (and its great technical appendix) - and it's not the depressing story the author makes it out to be. (my colleague blogged it here.) First - it was measuring the entire “clean economy”, not just clean technology (so analyzing 40 industry segments, including everything from public transit and types of farming, to pollution reduction and recycling). But if you just want to look at the “clean technology” segment of this clean economy, then you'll see “explosive growth” per the report - wind and solar jobs grew anywhere from 10%-18% annually the past 8 years (see page 22). Overall, the clean economy accounts for 2.7 million jobs, making it a larger employer of Americans than the fossil fuel energy sectors.

Second - the point of this study was to analyze job growth across the U.S. So for example, while the South Bay (San Jose, Sunnvale, Santa Clara) lost 492 jobs from 2003-2010 (as referenced in the article), the region of San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont area increased total clean economy jobs from 2003-2010 by more than 44% in that time, adding 15,700 new jobs. (from the data downloads in their interactive map here). Nationally, similarly impressive stories are everywhere. During that same period, Knoxville, Tennessee added nearly 10,000 green jobs, as did Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina - tripling the size of jobs in their clean economies, while Little Rock Arkansas more than doubled the number of jobs in its clean economy.

Third, in terms of addressing broader, structural issues within the U.S. economy, according to the Brookings report, one quarter of all these jobs in the broader clean economy are manufacturing, with several segments (including those in energy efficiency, electric vehicles and chemical segments) more than 90% manufacturing. Further, these clean economy jobs pay median wages that are 13% higher than median U.S. wages (and for workers with less formal education). [National Resources Defense Council, 8/19/11, emphasis added]

Solar Exec. Says Times Article Misrepresented Her Company's Operations

Times Article Suggested Solar Company Employs More People In China Than In U.S. The Times article stated that while the San Jose City Council committed to increasing the number of green jobs, solar manufacturer “SolFocus assembles its solar panels in China, and the new San Jose headquarters employs just 90 people”:

Flanked by a cadre of local political leaders, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose used a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a solar power company last week to talk up the promise of the green economy.

Mr. Reed called the opening of the new headquarters of SolFocus, which produces large, free-standing solar panels, an “enormously important” development for the city's economy.

“Clean technology is the next wave of innovation that Silicon Valley needs to capture,” the mayor said, noting that the San Jose City Council had committed to increasing the number of “green jobs” in the city to 25,000 by 2022. San Jose currently has 4,350 such jobs, according to city officials.

But SolFocus assembles its solar panels in China, and the new San Jose headquarters employs just 90 people. [New York Times, 8/18/11]

  • David Brooks Cited Article To Falsely Claim SolFocus Has “Bulk Of Its Employment” In China. David Brooks subsequently cited the Times article in his column, writing, “SolFocus designs solar panels in the United States, but the bulk of its employment is in China where the panels are actually made.” [New York Times, 9/5/11]

SolFocus Exec.: Company Employs More People In U.S. Than In China. Based on an interview with SolFocus Vice President of Business Development Nancy Hartsoch, Climate Progress reported:

Hartsoch tells Climate Progress she was “shocked” when she read the story. Why? Because the reporter left out one very important fact: Sol Focus directly employs only four people in China and hires about 30 sub-contractors for manufacturing. So its U.S. operations are far larger than anything in China.

When factoring in all the sub-contractors in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan for production of components like glass and racking, the number of American jobs the company supports rises by dozens more, says Hartsoch.

She says she told all that to the reporter, who apparently had already decided his predetermined narrative was more important than fact-based reporting. [Climate Progress, 9/7/11, emphasis original]

Times Article Suggested SolFocus Would Not Create American Manufacturing Jobs. The New York Times article went on to state that SolFocus said “the solar panels themselves will continue being made in China”:

Both the possibilities and limitations of the green economy were on display at SolFocus's ribbon-cutting in San Jose.

A SolFocus spokeswoman, Nancy Hartsoch, said the company was willing to pay a premium for the highly-skilled physicists, chemists and mechanical engineers who will work at the campus on Zanker Road, although the solar panels themselves will continue being made in China. Mayor Reed said he continued to hope that San Jose would attract manufacturing and assembly jobs, but Ms. Hartsoch said that was unlikely because “taxes and labor rates” were too high to merit investment in a factory in Northern California. [New York Times, 8/18/11]

SolFocus Exec.: Company Is Looking Into Building A Factory In Southern CA. Climate Progress further reported:

According to Hartsoch, the writer conveniently left out the fact that SolFocus is looking into building an assembly facility in southern California to be closer to where projects are being deployed. Instead, the reader gets the impression that SolFocus will be shipping all its jobs over to China just because it won't likely build a facility in northern California.

Hartsoch explains her reaction to the story:

Honestly, I've never been involved in a story that got this screwed up. I was so surprised to read the story. It's like the facts were misstated in order to put forward an agenda.

Things like this have legs that don't stop. It gets picked up everywhere and gets skewed further and further. I don't normally say anything about stories in the press, but the piece was inaccurate enough that I had to say something. [Climate Progress, 9/7/11, emphasis original]

Van Jones Says Times Article Misrepresented His Views

Times Article Suggested Jones Was “Frustrated” By The Green Economy. The New York Times article said:

In the Bay Area as in much of the country, the green economy is not proving to be the job-creation engine that many politicians envisioned. President Obama once pledged to create five million green jobs over 10 years. Gov. Jerry Brown promised 500,000 clean-technology jobs statewide by the end of the decade. But the results so far suggest such numbers are a pipe dream.

“I won't say I'm not frustrated,” said Van Jones, an Oakland activist who served briefly as Mr. Obama's green-jobs czar before resigning under fire after conservative critics said he had signed a petition accusing the Bush administration of deliberately allowing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a claim Mr. Jones denies. [New York Times, 8/18/11]

Jones: “I Was Talking About My Frustration With The GOP, Not The Green Jobs Movement.” Joe Romm of Climate Progress reported that Jones said “I was talking about my frustration with the GOP, not the green jobs movement”:

I was quoted in the story as “frustrated.” I am. But not in the way that the story suggests.

“Yes, I said I was frustrated. But I was talking about my frustration with the GOP, not the green jobs movement. The whole thing is ridiculous. Dirty energy backers blocked cap-and-trade, which would have spurred green innovation and enterprise. Now they complain that we have not had more progress regarding green jobs?

That would be like someone tripping a racehorse and then saying, ”See, I told you that horse was no good!"

That is the frustration that I was talking about.

What I find inspiring, if not miraculous, is that the green economy continues to blossom -- despite everything that has been thrown against it. [Climate Progress, 8/24/11, emphasis original]

Times Article Claimed Van Jones “Seemed To Have Scaled Back” His Green Job Aspirations. The New York Times article said that in an interview, Van Jones “seemed to have scaled back” his 2008 discussion of the potential of green jobs:

SolFocus's plans do not much resemble what Mr. Jones, the former Obama administration official, had in mind in his 2008 book, “The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems,” when he described the green economy as “Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and a lunch bucket going off to fix America,” and talked of millions of new jobs.

In an interview last week, though, he seemed to have scaled back. “The green economy as we initially conceived it,” Mr. Jones said, “was never supposed to save the entire global economy.” [New York Times, 8/18/11]

Jones: “I Explicitly Told The Reporter That I Stand Beside My Prediction.” Van Jones told Romm::

Also: contrary to the article, I explicitly told the reporter that I stand beside my prediction that the clean energy sector will create millions of jobs. But I warned him that a majority of those jobs could end up in China soon, unless DC starts acting aggressively. China's government has been moving quickly to gobble up global enterprises and industries. Meanwhile, DC has been missing in action since the mid-term elections.

Most troubling, the recession cost us nearly 10 million jobs, and there are an additional 15 million underemployed people in the United States. To fix America's economy single-handedly, the clean energy sector would have to generate 10-25 million jobs, all by itself. We never said we could create 10-25M US clean energy jobs, under any scenario.

The most enthusiastic backers were debating numbers in the 3-5M range -- and that was over a decade or longer, WITH cap and trade securely in place. We can still achieve those numbers -- with the right policies, innovations and enterprises. And those are very big numbers, worthy of the effort. But unless we fix our trade policy, get our currency valued properly and reform the financial sector, we will still be short 7-22 million jobs. So, no: the clean energy sector cannot generate enough jobs to erase all of the damage that the Great Recession did to America or the world. Growing this sector is an absolutely necessary, but not ultimately sufficient, part of the solution.

I conveyed all of this at length -- in a one-hour interview -- but the main quotes that made it through were the ones that reinforced the premise of the article. [Climate Progress, 8/24/11, emphasis original]

NY Times Claims Green Job Investments Have “Largely Failed”

NY Times: “Federal And State Efforts To Stimulate Green Jobs Have Largely Failed.” From the article:

Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show. Two years after it was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize drafty homes, California has spent only a little over half that sum and has so far created the equivalent of just 538 full-time jobs in the last quarter, according to the State Department of Community Services and Development. [New York Times, 8/18/11]

UMass Study: Clean Energy Produces More Jobs Per Dollar Than Military Or Fossil Fuel Investments. A 2009 University of Massachusetts-Amherst study estimated that on average, stimulus investment in clean energy creates 17 jobs per $1 million of expenditure -- a higher employment return than spending in the oil and gas industry and the military. From an NPR report:

There are reasons to believe that clean energy is a good investment, though. This part of the economy is small and growing fast. So far, it gets a good bang for the government buck.

“If you took the government's stimulus program on green activities, you get 17 jobs more or less per $1 million of expenditure,” said economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, whom the Commerce Department hired to run the numbers.

For comparison's sake, Pollin calculates that the military creates about 11 jobs for every $1 million; the oil and gas industry produces about five jobs per $1 million.

Pollin said clean energy gets a better payoff because kick-starting a new industry requires a lot of manpower.

“There's way more jobs in clean energy because essentially there's a lot more construction jobs, there's a lot more manufacturing jobs, there's a lot more transportation jobs,” he said. “So it's really the process of building the new industry that makes it a good generator of jobs.” [National Public Radio, Morning Edition, 6/13/11]

Brookings: Recovery Act Fueled Clean Economy Growth During Recession. The Brookings report stated that Recovery Act spending enabled the clean economy to grow “faster than the rest of the economy” during “the middle of the recession”:

Overall, today's clean economy establishments added more than half a million jobs between 2003 and 2010, expanding at an annual rate of 3.4 percent. This performance somewhat lagged behind in the national economy, which grew by 4.2 percent annually over the period (if job losses from establishment closings are omitted to make the data comparable). And yet, during the middle of the recession--from 2008 to 2009--the clean economy grew faster than the rest of the economy, expanding at a rate of 8.3 percent. This is likely due, in part, to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which channeled large sums of public spending towards clean energy projects through much of 2009. [The Brookings Institution, 7/13/11]

Conservative Media Use Times Article To Attack Green Jobs

Citing NY Times Article, Fox News Asks If Green Jobs Are “The Biggest Hoax Since The Moon Landing.” From the August 19 edition of Fox News' The Five:

GREG GUTFELD: So, you know the Obama administration is in trouble when The New York Times gives you grief. For instance, remember Obama's green initiative push? Well, when it comes to finding green jobs, you have more luck locating healthy tooth in Charlie Sheen's mouth.

The Times says, quote, “The green economy is not proving to be the job creation engine many politicians envisioned. President Obama once pledged to create 5 million green jobs over 10 years. Governor Jerry Brown promised 500,000 clean technology jobs statewide by the end of the decade.”

Yet where are these jobs? Well, you'd have better luck finding a date for Janeane Garofalo. You'd have better luck finding an uneaten French fry on Al Gore's plate. You'd have better luck finding original skin on Kathy Griffin's face. You'd have better luck finding a private sector job on Barack Obama's resume -- that was for you, Eric. In sum, The Times concludes, jobs that are green are just a pipe dream. So, I go to Kimberly first, because you're wearing blue. Isn't green jobs the biggest hoax since the moon landing? [Fox News, The Five, 8/19/11]

HotAir Claims That Even The “Left” Agrees That “Green-Jobs Stimulus Is A Waste Of Money.” After quoting the New York Times article and an editorial by Investor's Business Daily, HotAir's Ed Morrissey concluded:

It looks like the Right and Left agree: green-jobs stimulus is a waste of money and time. It's time to get government out of the social-engineering business. Not only does it cost us a fortune, it just flat-out doesn't work. [HotAir, 8/19/11]

CEI's Horner: Article Affirms That "'Green Jobs' Is A Costly, Wasteful Bunch Of Baloney." The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Chris Horner wrote at The American Spectator:

Politico's Morning Energy leads with an item in the New York Times affirming what some of us have exposed in detail, while lamenting that the same people will have too much fun pointing it out: 'green jobs' is a costly, wsateful [sic] bunch of baloney. [American Spectator, 8/19/11]

Forbes' Bell Uses Article To Claim “Obama's Green Jobs Pretense Is An Unmitigated Failure.” In an Forbes.com column titled “Obama's Green Jobs Pretense Is An Unmitigated Failure,” Larry Bell wrote:

The Obama green jobs stimulus program has proved to be such an unmitigated fiasco that even the administration's mainstream loyalist New York Times has given notice. A recent article, "Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises," characterized the administration's goal of creating 5 million new green jobs in 10 years as a “pipe dream.” The article notes, for example, that a much- heralded weatherization program “never caught on.” [Forbes.com, 9/6/11]

Hoft: “Even New York Times Admits Obama's Green Jobs Agenda Is A Failure.” In blog post titled “Even New York Times Admits Obama's Green Jobs Agenda Is A Failure,” conservative blogger Jim Hoft wrote on his blog Gateway Pundit:

Undortunately [sic] for Obama the secret is out.

Even the New York Times admitted today that Obama's green agenda has been a complete bust. [Gateway Pundit, 8/19/11]

IBD: “Even The New York Times Can't Ignore” The “Failure” Of Green Jobs. From an Investor's Business Daily editorial:

The fact that President Obama's “green jobs” campaign has been an enormously expensive failure is now so glaringly obvious even the New York Times can't ignore it any longer.

In a surprisingly candid article headlined “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises,” the Times' Aaron Glantz reports that “federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show,” and that Obama's goal of 5 million new green jobs in 10 years is a “pipe dream.”


But the Obama administration still has its head buried under a pile of solar panels, with the president endlessly touring “clean” factories, pushing electric cars consumers don't want and talking about politically correct “jobs of the future.”

Then again, if the Times can see the light, there might still be hope for Obama. [Investor's Business Daily, 8/19/11]

Powerline: “Even The New York Times Has Noticed” The “Failure Of The 'Green Jobs' Scam.” Steven Hayward wrote on the conservative blog Powerline:

The failure of the “green jobs” scam is becoming so obvious that even the New York Times has noticed, with a story today headlined “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises.” And even some Democrats are starting to notice! The whole “green jobs” enthusiasm is likely to go down in policy history as the energy/environment equivalent of the Great Society/War on Poverty/“Model Cities” social engineering of the 1960s. [Powerline, 8/19/11]

Townhall Uses Article To Conclude Obama's Jobs Plan Shouldn't Include Green Jobs. Townhall.com's Erika Johnsen wrote:

I would just hate to have to be the one to break this to the President (er, scratch that. I would probably relish it.), but when the President returns from Martha's Vineyard to present his highly anticipated economy-and-jobs plan, I hope for both his and the American people's sake that it doesn't contain more dreamy outlines for the creation of 'green' jobs. Because when you've lost the zeal of the Gray Lady, you know something's up. [Townhall.com, 8/19/11]