Green Jobs Are Getting Outsourced, Too

Another reason why relying only on the private sector to restart the labor market won't work.

By Seth Freed Wessler Aug 13, 2010

Apparently some green jobs–those economy and planet saving miracles–are getting outsourced. A Michigan solar energy company is reportedly shipping 140 of its "low skilled" jobs to Tijuana, where workers can be paid a lot less. And green jobs, which were once seen as viable economic replacements for blue collar industries, are coming under harsher scrutiny.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the plan by the company in question, Energy Conversion Devices:

[The] decision to shift what it described as low-skill assembly jobs to Mexico is part of a broader effort to cut costs and compete with solar cell makers which have manufacturing operations in China, Malaysia and other lower-wage nations, says Martha Duggan, ECD’s head of government and regulatory affairs.

ECD says it’s pushing ahead with plans to use the $13 million stimulus tax credit it received to upgrade other parts of its Auburn Hills operations to produce a new, more efficient line of solar cells. When ECD announced the Department of Energy award, it said the $42 million project would create about 600 additional jobs in Michigan.

Duggan says the company still expects to create those 600 jobs. But that could take longer than originally planned. Uncertainty in the global solar cell market has led the company to stretch the investments into 2012, she says.

Unemployment still hovers around 10 percent nationwide, and the numbers are much higher for people of color. Last year the Applied Research Center published a Race and Recession report in which we explored why these disparities exist.

In places like Michigan, where the disappearance of manufacturing jobs has decimated whole neighborhoods (with significant help from predatory lending), investments in green jobs were to be a vital part of growth and economic rejuvenation. But if these jobs disappear like their auto predecessors did, we’ve got a problem.

Of course, Republicans are going to scream that this exposes the failure of the stimulus, but that’s just wrongheaded. What it points to is the need for more subsidies for green companies and more aggressive oversight to ensure the money is spent in ways that actually boost the economy. It also points to the need for direct investment in public works jobs. Relying on private industry to put people back to work just won’t get the job done.