Green energy transition may leave some workers behind

New research from Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice shows both potential and unequal opportunities in the green jobs market.

While the move away from fossil fuels has created an increase in available “green” jobs, the transition may also “exacerbate trends in labor market inequality,” according to a new study coauthored by R. Jisung Park, an assistant professor at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) with a secondary appointment at the Wharton School.

A worker inside a windmill.
Image: iStock/Jacinto benavente madrid

In the study, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, Park and coauthors explore how workers may be affected by a shrinking labor market in carbon-intensive, or “dirty,” industries due to climate mitigation policies.

By analyzing data from 130 million online work profiles representing approximately 300 million job-to-job transitions, the authors investigate the labor market implications of the shift from fossil fuels toward less carbon-intensive energy sources.

They find the rate of workers transitioning from dirty to green jobs is rapidly rising. The number of available green jobs, including electric vehicle (EV)-related positions, is also on the rise, and these green jobs offer similar opportunities for longer-term employment. “If this continues then we will expect to see a sizable number of workers currently employed in dirty jobs to transition to green jobs,” Park and colleagues write.

At the same time, these transitions currently only represent a small number of workers. Findings also show older workers and those without a college education are less likely to transition to green jobs. A majority of workers acquiring green jobs do not come from dirty industries and many are first-time job holders. Further, a high rate of persistence within dirty jobs in some places suggests there may be limits to alternate employment that local labor markets can offer potentially displaced workers transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Read more at SP2 News.