The Myth of High Paid Green Manufacturing Jobs

Interesting article in the Free Press this weekend on the wages that GM will pay workers in plants that will make the components for its electric vehicles. Less than $14 an hour. And yes workers in those plants will be represented by the UAW!

This should put to rest –but won’t – the dream that we can recreate a high wage factory-based economy by building a green economy. The proposed wages are consistent with the pattern we have seen in other green tech factory jobs in Michigan. Yes green tech offers an opportunity for new factory jobs, but they are highly unlikely to be high wage. Jobs that require low education attainment – no matter what industry they are in – will no longer be high wage jobs. Those jobs are gone forever.

Should Michigan and the country encourage the growth of a green economy? Of course. Both for environmental and economic reasons. But building that economy will not reverse the long term trend that both job growth and high wage jobs are going to increasingly be knowledge-based. The high wage green economy jobs will be concentrated in the knowledge parts of the sector – management, R&D, engineering and design, logistics, marketing, etc. And more than likely its also where most of the green economy jobs will be.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Please keep beating the drum on this, Lou. The green economy is being treated in the same way we treated biotech not too many years ago. The myth was that every city could be good at biotech and that it would produce an unlimited number of jobs. Neither proved to be true. We need to be mature enough to say, yes, we want to develop a green economy in America, but no, it is not the economic savior. (And it is not at all clear that the green economy holds special opportunity for low-educated workers, unless by that we mean landscape jobs and maybe — maybe — home energy retrofits.)

    1. Carol,

      Great comment. We all need to keep repeating that picking industries is not the best way to grow the economy. Nor, just because its a new industry, can it reduce the trend of jobs requiring low education attainment now paying lower wages.

      The characteristics of the places with the most prosperous economies across the country are those that are over concentrated in the knowledge economy, but within it are concentrated in nothing. In the Great Lakes think the most prosperous metros – Chicago and Minneapolis – which have no real industry concentrations. But are broadly diversified across all the knowledge-based sectors. What allows for that kind of diversification is large pools of talent. That’s where we need to focus or energy – concentrating talent, rather than picking industries.

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