Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

People want to know: Are green jobs real? The answer is resoundingly “yes.”

With roughly 93,500 direct and indirect jobs, the American solar industry now employs about 20,000 more workers than the U.S. steel production sector. The American steel industry has historically been a symbol of the country’s industrial might and economic prosperity. But today, the solar industry has the potential to overtake that image as we build a new, clean-energy economy.

Cumulative installed solar PV capacity, 2000-2020

Last week, Germany’s economic development agency announced similarly big news: There are now more than 100,000 workers employed in the German solar photovoltaic (PV) industry alone. Why is that so significant? The U.S. figures take into account solar jobs in PV, solar hot water, and concentrating solar power; Germany is only factoring in solar PV.

And as a reader over at Clean Technica observed: “The U.S. has about 312 million people while Germany has 82 million, about 25 percent as many people … That makes the German solar industry more than four times as large an employer than U.S. steel based on country size.”

A couple words of caution: These figures are comparing solar manufacturing, sales, and installation to steel production alone. If one were to factor in products made from steel, the industry would be up around 160,000 workers.

With that said, the solar industry is just getting started here in America. Solar is a high-growth industry with the potential to create millions more jobs in a diverse range of sectors; while still an extraordinarily important industry, steel is not.

Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, explains the significance:

Whether it is construction contractors, plumbers, electricians, assembly-line workers, or even lawyers and accountants, solar is creating new opportunities at a time when so many Americans are looking for some good news on the job front. In just three short years, the solar industry has grown from a small startup to an industry that now employs more Americans than U.S. steel production.

Yet, even with such a big milestone for the U.S. economy, political leaders like Louisiana Rep. John Fleming (R) are questioning the “so-called green jobs that we’re yet to see produced.”

The bigger question for Mr. Fleming and other doubters is: Which curve do you want to place your bets on?

The continued growth in U.S. solar?

U.S. solar electric installations, 2000-2010

Or the uncertain future for U.S. steel? (The black line represents the U.S. and the red line is China.) Sadly, without leadership on a long-term renewable energy policy, the split between America and China below may just play out in the solar industry as well.

U.S. steel production, 1980-2010