(Green energy, green jobs story updated for First Solar plant announcement)
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --
You've heard it or read it in a headline somewhere and probably taken it for granted: green energy = job growth. Sounds simple enough. It also makes one feel good about the direction in which the country is headed at a time when national employment remains at a dangerously high level.
There's no shortage of opportunities to soak up the green energy = job growth rhetoric.Google announced this week that it's backing the development of an offshore wind market for the U.S., and among all the reasons to get behind wind energy, Google said the project will create lots of jobs for the U.S. economy. The powerful United Steelworkers union recently filed a petition with the Obama administration citing China for unfair trade practices in support of its emerging green energy sector and taking valuable manufacturing jobs from the U.S. Maybe it was a magazine profile of an innovative solar firm in Silicon Valley, a darling of the venture capital crowd -- even got President Obama to pose for a photo on the floor of their hi-tech plant -- that sealed the science of the green energy = job growth formula. Maybe it was the United Steelworkers petition or a sound bite from a U.S. senator decrying the loss of manufacturing jobs to China and pleading with America to get behind green energy as a way to transform our job market and invent a new economy. Yet the green energy = job growth formula is lacking in one important respect: actual labor data. Other than annual reports from trade groups that are paid for by the green energy sector companies as part of their lobbying efforts, there hasn't been any accepted economic model or nationwide census to study the actual trends in green energy hiring. That's about to change, but not overnight. The effort to show that the green energy sector is creating a level of employment that is a driver of the U.S. economy is just getting started, and it could be a few years before the data becomes a reliable source for economists, the markets, and you and me, looking for jobs -- even if hopefully the unemployment level is not still hovering near 10%. It doesn't take an economic guru to understand that employment data is a major market force. Consider last Friday's non-farm payroll report from the government: another disappointing jobs number and the Dow finally eclipses the 11,000 point mark. Investors bet the Federal Reserve will take one look at the national employment picture and step in to stimulate the economy.