Healthcare, green tech brighten dim U.S. jobs picture.
Healthcare and clean energy rank as bright spots in a bleak U.S. jobs market and both stand to generate even more employment under plans put forward by President Barack Obama.
The health industry, bolstered by the demands of an aging population and supplied by new technologies, has added jobs despite the recession and is destined for further expansion should Obama make good on his promise of affordable medical care for millions of uninsured Americans.
The mix of jobs is likely to shift as preventive medicine gets more emphasis, record-keeping functions are modernized and fewer diagnostic tests are ordered, economists say.
"Green" tech, propelled by efforts to cut carbon emissions blamed for global warming, will benefit from an economic stimulus package enacted this year and a climate change bill making its way through Congress.
Healthcare and the environment were singled out in a report this month by Obama's Council of Economic Advisers as two sectors projected to be major U.S. job engines over the next several years.
Investments in the two areas "are laying the foundation for long-term economic growth," said Heather Boushey, an economist with the Center for American Progress.
STRONG ECONOMIC MEDICINE
Healthcare has grown 3.7 percent since the recession began in December 2007, while the labor force as a whole declined 4.7 percent, said Heidi Shierholz, an Economic Policy Institute economist, citing U.S. Labor Department data.
One reason that medicine has held its own during the recession is that nearly 60 percent of all healthcare costs are covered by the public sector, including programs like Medicaid and Medicare, helping insulate the industry from hard times, said labor professor Eileen Appelbaum of Rutgers University.
"People think we have a private health system in this country, but more than half is publicly financed," she said.
Budget strains are starting to take their toll on healthcare jobs in many states, she said. But the Labor Department projects that U.S. healthcare employment will grow 20 percent above 2006 levels by 2016, even without Obama's proposed overhaul.
Government forecasts for clean energy and green technology jobs as a whole are harder to come by.
Economists from the University of Massachusetts and the Center for American Progress concluded in a study last month that the economic stimulus and the climate-change bills would generate $150 billion a year in clean-energy investments, netting 1.7 million new jobs annually.
GOING FOR GREEN
Most of those gains would come from retrofits of homes and other buildings to improve energy efficiency and insulation. Other high-growth areas cited in the report included renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy expanded public transportation and construction of a highly efficient new electric distribution network, known as the smart grid.
Some of this money would come from direct government spending, matching grants, tax incentives, loan guarantees and bonds. But private-sector investments are expected to account for the lion's share, the study found.
Much of that would be induced by an expanded market for renewable energy and conservation projects created by a carbon cap-and-trade system and other measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Energy and Security Act.
One downside is that little of the stimulus money for clean-energy projects will come this year, with the bulk of spending expected to take place from 2010 to 2014.
Eileen Kohan, career planning and placement director at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said growth in the green-tech sector appeared sluggish based on recent efforts to help USC graduates find jobs.
"We've had tremendous difficulty trying to identify and attract employers in that field," she said. "Last year, we tried to do a mini-career fair with green careers, and we could not get more than a handful of companies."
College students are not the only ones eager to go green.
Seeing a potential boost to the slumping construction industry, home builders and contractors have been clamoring for training and accreditation in green technology.
"While things are quiet in the construction industry, the interest is rising for education and credentialing," said Linda Sorrento of the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.
'MANPOWER IS HUNGRY'
Demand for green retrofitting, home weatherization and solar-energy panel installation has lagged due to tight cash and credit on the part of recession-battered homeowners and businesses, she said.
"I'm struggling just to keep my door open," said Alan Abrams, owner of a remodeling and construction firm in Washington, D.C., who recently took a crash course in green design from the National Association of Home Builders. "The manpower is there. The manpower is hungry, believe me."
Labor experts say green retrofitting should pick up and produce more jobs once stimulus money begins to flow.
Abrams said too much emphasis appeared to be placed on solar power, wind energy and other high-tech alternatives, as opposed to improvements in energy conservation he says are more cost-effective and yield a faster return on investment.
"You'll absolutely get much, much more for your money with a caulk gun than you will with a photovoltaic cell," he said.
(Additional reporting by Mari Saito in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken)