Coal-fired power plants sicken and kill tens of thousands of Americans every year, especially those (generally low-income, often minority) Americans who have the misfortune of living near them.

So why would any community allow a coal plant to be built in its midst? Indeed, why would communities pay enormous amounts of money in bribes development assistance for the privilege?

Simple: jobs. Lots of these communities are suffering from blight and high unemployment. They are desperate. And developers play on that desperation with promises of jobs. It may sicken your children, but at least you’ll be able to afford their medicine!

But do those promises come true? According to a new study from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, not so much.

Ochs researchers dove in and took a close look at economic conditions before, during, and after six coal plant construction projects, along with the promises that were made and deals struck in advance.

Their results suggest that the promise of jobs was oversold. Overall, “for every one hundred new construction jobs promised, just over half — 56 percent — were actually realized.” Over half those new jobs were in one county. In the other four counties studied, “coal plant construction only delivered net increases of 1,730 jobs out of a projected increase of 6,370 jobs — just over 27 percent.” Many of those jobs (1 out of 5) were created in response to “non-local” factors, mainly construction employment trends. And many of the jobs went to workers from outside the counties in question.

They summarize:

These findings strongly suggest that the economic development argument for coal plants is relatively weak, especially when compared with the job creation potential of alternative means of addressing demand for power through energy efficiency.

Indeed.

(NYT’s Tom Zeller Jr. has more.)