Posted by: Peter Black | March 5, 2009

Green Jobs and Companies are Overwhelmingly Located in Middle Class Areas of the Country


Why is this important? There’s an ongoing perception that the green collar economy will only be available to highly trained, affluent people. However, there’s already 500 million in the stimulus package for green collar job training, and the fact that we can now verify the location of green companies in proximity to middle and lower income areas means that there are already opportunities for people close to where they live. We don’t know the details: how many people are being hired, what kind of backgrounds they come from, etc. But perhaps this analysis is a crystal ball into the future of the green collar economy.

Here’s how I figured this out:

  • I took all of the green company location data for the 12 states we at EDF included in the report and overlaid it with some zip code level demographics data in my geographic information system (GIS).
  • Then, I created a threshold for “middle class” by defining it as per capita income $25,000 per year…which could be expanded or changed due to the definition of “middle class”.
  • Using the GIS, I found out how many of the green companies were within the selected zip codes, how many were within 1 mile, and how many were within 5 miles
  • I then used the same methodology to find the green companies in poorer areas, which I defined as: per capita income < $20,000/year

Here are the results of the analysis:

For the middle class,

  • 540 of the 1,197 comanies are located within middle class zip codes
  • 704 are within one mile
  • 965 are within five miles

For poorer areas,

  • 307 are located within poorer zip codes
  • 445 are within one mile
  • 781 are within 5 miles

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for this line of analysis, or if you thought it was useful (use the comments for this! Everyone benefits from great comments!) If people yearn to see the zip code level demographic data as an overlay on the google map, I can make it happen…but only if it’s something the community will value.



  1. Hey Peter. I was thinking about posting your climate atlas blog post on jobs on the Insider–really eye-catching finding! I just have one question about it. Do your definitions of low and middle incomes match the government definitions? I wonder because a per capita income of $20k seems actually far above poverty. If it applied to a family of four, but only the adults, it would be $40k; if children are included it would be $80k.

  2. Good Point Allison!

    The government doesn’t actually define what middle income is as they do poverty:

    The definitions are complicated by the size of a given family, and especially by regional differences in income levels. For example, someone making $50,000 a year in West Virginia is living very well. Someone making that pay in New York City is struggling to get by.

    NPR did a segment on this question last year, in which they asked the presidential candidates what they thought:

    I can certainly change the thresholds. I’ll try this one next:
    – median household income < $25,000, >25k and < 75k, >75k


  3. When I use those thresholds:

    29 are in poorer zip codes
    87 are within a mile
    265 are within 5 miles

    886 of the companies are in middle income zip codes
    1015 are within a mile
    1141 are within 5 miles

    So it REALLY depends upon what the thresholds for defining lower and middle income are…However, the data is clearly telling us that the vast majority of the green companies are located in middle income zip codes, and to a lesser extent in poorer zip codes…though remember, the zip code level demographics is are statistical averages (in the case of per capita) and medians (in the case of median household income).

  4. Hi Peter. So the new thresholds are median income = to $25k and median income = to $75k?

  5. Yep. You got it Allison.

    We’re looking to combine the green company data with unemployment data, which may prove to be even more insightful than the income data.

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