Sometimes the numbers in a wire service report are so ridiculous, you just know that they’re bogus.
On Wednesday, June 11, a duo of Associated Press reporters, Chris Kahn and Sandy Shore, with an assist from Tali Arbel, reported on a study “green jobs” study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts. In “The Clean Energy Economy: Repowering Jobs, Businesses, and Investments Across America,” Pew made the growth in “clean energy” appear more impressive than it is by vastly understating job growth in the rest of the economy during the past decade — by a factor of three.
None of the three AP “journalists” involved, and none of the alleged layers of fact-checkers and editors at the wire service, had the intuitive sense to detect an error by Pew so pathetically obvious that anyone following the economy at all — and that includes the folks at Pew — should have known the figure involved was false.
Here are the first few paragraphs of the AP story (bold is mine):
The fledgling renewable energy industry has grown steadily over much of the past decade, adding jobs at more than twice the national rate, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study released Wednesday.
Solar and wind-power companies, energy-efficient light bulb makers, environmental engineering firms and others expanded their work force by 9.1 percent from 1998 to 2007, the latest year available, according to Pew.
The average job growth in all industries was 3.7 percent during the same period.
The entire energy sector has experienced growth in recent years as well, according to the Bureau of Labor. Bureau data shows coal mining jobs jumped 16 percent from 2003 to 2009. Oil and gas extraction jobs jumped 28 percent.
So there is no misunderstanding, here are the exact quotes from Pew’s press release, and from its full report (a PDF whose link is on the third line of the press release; bold is mine):
(from press release) Pew found that jobs in the clean energy economy grew at a national rate of 9.1 percent, while traditional jobs grew by only 3.7 percent between 1998 and 2007.
(from full report) But Pew’s research shows that between 1998 and 2007, clean energy economy jobs—a mix of white-and blue-collar positions, from scientists and engineers to electricians, machinists and teachers—grew by 9.1 percent, while total jobs grew by only 3.7 percent.
So the AP reporters looked at some of the information readily available at Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Good for them.
Too bad they didn’t look at the following information at BLS, obtained by yours truly in all of three minutes (go to this BLS page and check the top four boxes, retrieve the data, and change the beginning year to 1997 to replicate), that totally debunks the Pew Report’s core claim that “clean energy” is a leading economic contributor.
You see, my research at BLS reveals the following about “total jobs” from the end of 1997 to the end of 2007:
Total jobs grew by 11.1% during the 10-year period in question. Total private sector jobs grew by 10.7%. These percentages are triple and almost triple, respectively, the 3.7% figure served up by Pew and swallowed whole by AP. They are also larger than the Pew report’s claimed “clean energy” job growth percentage of 9.1%.
Thus, the first sentence of AP’s report should have read:
The fledgling renewable energy industry has grown steadily over much of the past decade, but has added jobs at less than the national rate.
Sort of blows the whole reason to bother with Pew’s report, except perhaps to report how fundamentally flawed it is, doesn’t it?
Though Jim Taranto at the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web (second item at link) didn’t comment directly on the overall jobs disparity in Pew’s report vs. reality, he did make this observation about the AP’s likely outlook towards Pew’s report that led the wire service to be so lax in its fact-checking:
This misleading framing of the data did not originate with the AP; the Pew press release is titled “Pew Finds Clean Energy Economy Generates Significant Job Growth.” But this points to a way in which media bias often operates. Rarely do news reporters merely rewrite a press release touting a study that comes from a conservative or free-market group. Instead, they take a more critical approach in order to compensate for the group’s bias. There’s nothing wrong with that; the fault lies in journalists’ failing to apply a similar skepticism to liberal groups.
Taranto’s point is valid, but there’s a larger one.
The unfortunate AP reporters involved appear to have been sucker-punched by their media comrades’ “Clinton grandeur followed by recession followed by jobless recovery followed by flat performance followed by recession” rendition of the economy that was recited virtually without interruption during the Bush years. Never mind the reality that jobs on the ground increased at a double-digit rate during the decade reviewed; these reporters were so taken in by the false narrative that they didn’t even recognize how totally and pathetically bogus Pew’s 3.7% job-growth figure is.
This means that the falsehoods of the eight years preceding the ascension of Dear Leader seem to have fed on themselves to the point that the establishment media’s own reporters couldn’t flag bogus information that should never have passed the stench test, let alone the smell test — let alone getting into print and published.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.
UPDATE: Commenter Bradley looked at the graphic in Pew’s Report (saved at my host) allegedly showing percentage state-by-state job growth in “clean energy” and in total. As expected, it has the same errors.
For Ohio, it claims a 2.2% contraction from 1998-2007. Not at all — BLS data shows that Buckeye State employment at the end of 2007 was 5.43 million (Table 5–Seasonally Adjusted Employees on Nonfarm Payrolls), vs. 5.38 million at the end of 1997 (Table 3, same title) — an almost 1% increase. That’s not huge, but it’s enough to count.
But the Buckeye State hasn’t grown much compared to the rest of the country. So let’s try Texas, from the same sources: 2007 – 10.39 million; 1997 – 8.58 million. That’s an increase of 21.1%, vs. Pew’s 6.7%. Zheesh.
UPDATE 2: The footnote at the graphic in Pew’s report says that its source for the national labor growth figure of 3.7% and those of individual states is the “National Establishment Time Series (NETS) Database and data from the Cleantech Group LLC.” NETS is not publicly available.
The specific methodology description on Page 14 of the report (Page 16 of the PDF) says the following (link within was added by me):
This report counts jobs, companies, patent registrations and venture capital investments that are part of the clean energy economy, as Pew defines it, across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Because a perfect data set with which to count these jobs and businesses does not exist, and obtaining an accurate count of this emerging economic activity is difficult, Pew used data that provide detailed information on individual companies.
As a first step, Pew’s researchers identified companies receiving clean technology venture capital. Next, we used the National Establishment Time Series (NETS) database—a time series database of U.S. public and private establishments based on data from Dun & Bradstreet—to identify similar and related companies. This approach enabled us to capture the different sets of activities that result in products and services produced and supplied by the clean energy economy, creating the most comprehensive and accurate count of jobs yet available. For the purposes of this analysis, we studied jobs and businesses between 1998 and 2007.
Fine. NETS, based on linked description, appears to be a good way to track growth of disparate types of businesses that aren’t broken out in fine detail by BLS. NETS looks at existing businesses and how they did and didn’t grow.
But please note that the two paragraphs above don’t specifically inform us that Pew also relied on NETS for its information about job growth in the economy as a whole. We have to look at teeny-tiny footnotes in a few exhibits for that.
The very detailed explanation of Pew’s methodology at Exhibit B (Page 45-48 of report, Pages 47-50 of PDF) describes in detail the steps taken in using NETS to extract “clean energy” job estimates. I generally have no quarrel with that; in fact, it seems pretty clever. But again, Pew doesn’t specifically say that it also used NETS info to estimate job growth in the economy as a whole. The closest it got was to tells us why BLS and Census data weren’t considered useful for estimating “clean energy” jobs. It never told us why NETS info is better than BLS or Census data for reporting job growth in the entire economy — because it isn’t.
From all appearances, using NETS data as a proxy for job growth in the entire economy is an egregious misapplication of the database. How can it be defended when it obtains a result so obviously at variance with readily available data coming from people who have been at it for decades?
But even if Pew had put out the most wondrous explanation imaginable, the fact remains that the 3.7% result cited for “traditional (i.e. all non-clean energy) jobs” in the press release and “total jobs” in the report itself is wrong, deceptive, and led Pew to a totally incorrect conclusion. That it was blindly accepted by journalists who should know better but nevertheless accepted it on faith because it was coming from people they consider “good guys” is very sad, and all too typical.
Regardless of whether I’ve properly pegged the nature of Pew’s error, the fact remains that however it applied NETS to jobs in the economy as a whole, it came up with an egregiously and obviously wrong result. The BLS data prove it.
UPDATE 3: While we’re at it, Pew’s Exhibit 12 (also saved at host) is using “Total Jobs” numbers that are way, way off about the number of people actually working in the individual states; I believe they are really “total adults of working age.” Glutton for punishment that I am, I added up the 51 numbers presented and came up with over 157 million — 19 million higher than the nonfarm total of people working at the end of 2007 per BLS above.
Individual state totals confirm the error. Examples: Ohio’s 6.30 million per Pew’s Exhibit 12 is 16% higher than BLS’s 5.43 million; Texas’s 11.73 million per Pew is 13% higher.
Though this error hurts Pew’s “case” by resulting in a lower-than-actual percentage of people working in “clean energy,” the more important point is that Exhibit 12′s overstatements confirm the report’s general sloppiness.