Best & worst states for green jobs

We determined which states offer the best and worst prospects for people who want a green job.

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Derek SilvaSenior Editor & Personal Finance ExpertDerek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

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According to NASA, we are already seeing effects from the rise of global temperatures and from global climate change. June 2019 was the hottest June on record. We’re also seeing glaciers shrinking and sea levels rising more and more quickly. The normal habitats of animals and plants are becoming unlivable, causing them to move, often closer to humans. We’re also seeing more extreme weather, like stronger hurricanes and intense heat waves. So what can we do to combat these effects?

One way to help combat global climate change is to invest and participate in green jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, green jobs fall into one of two categories. Some green jobs directly produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment and its conservation. In others, workers make production processes more environmentally friendly and reduce the use of natural resources.

Using this definition, we created a list of about 50 green jobs in the United States. We compared those jobs across multiple factors, including how common they are, how much employment for those jobs is expected to grow by 2026, how much they pay and the schooling required to qualify for those jobs to determine which states offer the best and worst prospects for people who want a green job.

Key findings

Head inland for green jobs. Our study found that the states along the East and West coasts are generally not the best places for green jobs.

The three states along the West coast all rank in the bottom third of all states, thanks largely to high unemployment and high housing costs. Most states along the Eastern Seaboard also struggle. Only five East Coast states rank in the top half of the study: Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Vermont.

The best states for green jobs are primarily those in the center of the United States, as you can see from the map below.

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Green jobs are growing. Based on BLS projections, in the decade from 2016 to 2026, green jobs are expected to grow by more than 9% nationally. That translates to a growth in employment of 198,500 workers.

Two jobs in particular are expected to see massive growth. Employment for solar photovoltaic installers is expected to grow by 105%, which means it’ll more than double from 2016 to 2026. (By the way, you can get that job with just a high-school education.) Wind turbine service technicians will see employment growth of 96%.

Even though green jobs are expected to grow, they aren’t all that widespread right now. The state where green jobs are most prevalent, Vermont, currently only has about one green job per 1,000 jobs in the state.

Green jobs pay well. The average annual salary for green jobs is $72,057, according to data from the BLS. That’s 22% higher (and nearly $16,000 more) than the average annual salary for non-green jobs, which is $56,334.

Across all states, the green job with the highest salary is architectural and engineering managers, who make an average of about $138,700 annually.

A bachelor’s degree is enough. BLS data show nearly 94% of our green jobs require no more schooling than a bachelor’s degree. Two years of schooling may also be enough, with 40% of green jobs requiring an associate degree or less. And while less than 20% of jobs are available to those with a high school diploma or equivalent, the job expected to grow the most by 2026, solar photovoltaic installers, requires only a high school degree or equivalent.

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The 5 best states for green jobs

1. North Dakota North Dakota takes our top spot because it does well in every category. It has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.3%, and eighth-lowest median housing costs at $799 per month. North Dakota has the 13th-highest density of green jobs with employees in green jobs earning an average of $70,589 annually.

2. New Mexico The workers in New Mexico who have green jobs earn an average of $75,861 annually. That’s 14th-highest in the country. Housing is affordable, making up just 12.4% of the average salary for someone with a green job. The cost of a four-year college degree is also affordable at about $7,100 per year.

3. Wyoming Wyoming has the most affordable college tuition in our study, with a four-year degree from a public college costing just $5,400 per year. The state also has the fifth-highest density of green jobs and employment for Wyoming’s green jobs is projected to grow 8.6% (14th most) by 2026.

4. Iowa Iowa has the third-lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. at 2.4%, and the 15th-lowest monthly housing costs ($825). The green jobs in Iowa are expected to see growth of 9.9% from 2016-2026. That’s the fourth-highest growth rate in our study.

5. Idaho The Gem State has the ninth-highest density of green jobs in the country. Unemployment is fifth-lowest (2.8%) and college students pay the seventh-lowest tuition in the country. They pay an average of $7,590 each year in tuition for public, four-year degrees. Unlike any other state, the highest-paying green job in Idaho is nuclear engineers, and they make an average annual salary of $128,270.

Learn how your state handles workers' compensation with our state-by-state guide.

The 5 worst states for green jobs

47. Arizona The major reason Arizona ranks 47th is that it has the fifth-highest unemployment at rate 4.9%. The average income for those in green jobs ranks 29th, but the monthly housing costs are also 29th-highest. The silver lining is that green jobs in Arizona are projected to grow 8.2% by 2026, which is 18th-highest in the nation.

48. New Jersey New Jersey has the fourth-highest housing costs in the country, at $1,545 per month. That can really cut into your budget, which is why New Jersey ranks 48th. That monthly cost may not seem too unreasonable for those in green jobs though, since they average a salary of $81,867. Another thing to keep in mind is that public colleges in New Jersey have the fourth-highest average tuition in the U.S. ($14,180 per year).

49. Connecticut Even though the average income for green jobs in Connecticut is eighth-highest in the country ($79,925), the state ranks so low because housing costs are seventh-highest nationally. However, those housing costs still only make up about 21% of the average green job income, so you could probably do fine if you can create a realistic budget.

50. Georgia The biggest reason Georgia finds itself toward the bottom of our index is that it has the fifth-lowest density of green jobs and the employment of green jobs is expected to grow at the fifth-lowest rate in the decade from 2016 to 2026. The average income for green jobs is also 11th-lowest in the country. On the bright side, the average tuition at public colleges is just $8,580 each year, 15th-lowest in the country.

51. Illinois Illinois has the sixth-lowest density of green jobs in the country. Just 0.4 out of every 1,000 jobs is a green job. The unemployment rate and the cost of tuition at a public college also rank in the bottom 10. On a happier note, workers in green jobs earn an average annual salary of $72,842 (21st highest).

The highest-paying green jobs

Green jobs have an average salary of $72,057 nationally. However, certain jobs stand above the rest for their high annual salaries. In particular, six green jobs earn an average of more than $100,000 nationally.

1. Architectural and engineering managers: $138,729

According to the BLS, these workers plan, direct or coordinate activities in fields such as architecture, engineering or research and development.

Example job titles: chief engineer, civil engineering manager, director of engineering, engineering Manager, principal engineer, project engineer

2. Natural sciences managers: $121,827

These workers plan, direct or coordinate activities in the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, statistics, and research and development for these fields.

Example job titles: environmental program manager, fisheries director, health sciences manager, laboratory manager, water team leader

3. Nuclear engineers: $111,539

Nuclear engineers conduct research on nuclear engineering projects or apply principles and theory of nuclear science to problems concerned with release, control and use of nuclear energy, and nuclear waste disposal.

Example job titles: nuclear design engineer, nuclear licensing engineer, nuclear process engineer, nuclear reactor engineer, radiological engineer

4. Industrial production managers: $111,420

These employees plan, direct, or coordinate the work activities and resources necessary for manufacturing products while keeping within cost, quality and quantity specifications.

Example job titles: area plant manager, biofuels production manager, biomass power plant manager, geothermal production manager, product line manager

5. Aerospace engineers: $110,011

Aerospace engineers help design, construct and test aircraft, missiles and spacecraft. They may also help conduct and apply research into the design and manufacturing of aircraft.

Example job titles: aeronautical engineer, avionics engineer, flight controls engineer, flight test engineer, structural analysis engineer

6. Chemical engineers: $102,493

These workers design chemical plant equipment and come up with processes for manufacturing chemicals and products like synthetic rubber, plastics, detergents and paper.

Example job titles: engineering scientist, process control engineer, project engineer, refinery process engineer, research chemical engineer

The 10 most prevalent green jobs

These are the 10 green jobs with the highest employment across the country.

  1. Civil engineers: 308,270 workers

  2. Compliance officers: 305,140 workers

  3. Mechanical engineers: 304,500 workers

  4. Architectural and engineering managers: 189,290 workers

  5. Electrical engineers: 187,310 workers

  6. Industrial production managers: 182,420 workers

  7. Architects (except landscape and naval): 104,790 workers

  8. Construction and building inspectors: 104,580 workers

  9. Architectural and civil drafters: 98,090 workers

  10. Chemists: 85,680 workers

The 10 green jobs expected to grow the most

In the decade between 2016 and 2026, the BLS has projected which green jobs will grow the most nationally. These are the green jobs with the highest expected percentage growth. These are also the only 10 green jobs predicted to grow by at least 10%.

  1. Solar photovoltaic installers: 104.9%

  2. Wind turbine service technicians: 96.3%

  3. Geoscientists (except hydrologists and geographers): 14%

  4. Environmental engineering technicians: 12.9%

  5. Urban and regional planners: 12.8%

  6. Environmental science and protection technicians (including health technicians): 12.1%

  7. Atmospheric and space scientists: 12%

  8. Environmental scientists and specialists (including health specialists): 11.1%

  9. Civil engineers: 10.6%

  10. Construction and building inspectors: 10%

About the index

To create this index of the best and worst states for green jobs, Policygenius created a list of 47 green jobs.

All of these jobs have been identified by the BLS as belonging to the “green economy sector.” That means these jobs either directly produce goods and services benefiting the environment and its conservation, or help to adapt current production processes so they are more environmentally friendly and reduce the use of natural resources.

After creating our list, we ranked states across 10 factors. Then we used the average ranking across those factors to determine the final index. We used the following factors:

  • Unemployment rate, from the BLS

  • Median housing costs, using Census Bureau data

  • Housing costs as a percent of the income of green jobs

  • Average annual income of green jobs in the state, using BLS data

  • Density of the green job per 1,000 jobs in the state, using BLS data

  • Projected growth of green jobs, using BLS projections (BLS projections are only available at the national level. To get state-level numbers, we averaged the projections only for the green jobs present in each state.)

  • Education required to get the average green job in a state, using BLS data

  • Work experience required to get the average green job in a state, using BLS data

  • On-the-job training required to get the average green job in a state, using BLS data

  • Average cost for a public, four-year, in-state degree, using data from the College Board

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko

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