Sunday, March 1, 2009

Green Jobs For All?

A recent article from the Environment News Service (ENS) reports that the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families held its inaugural meeting on Friday at the University of Pennsylvania. The topic? Green jobs. Led by VP Joe Biden, this certainly lends weight to President Obama's claims of an environmental focus as well as trying to help create more jobs for the working class. However, reading the article raises far more questions than it answers.
First of all, some of the numbers just don't seem that likely. According to the article, green jobs pay 10 to 20 percent more than others. Other what? Presumably comparable jobs, although one could ask what exactly is comparable. Additionally, it doesn't go into what the actual breakdown of those jobs are, which could definitely skew the results. And is this a function of the fact that the jobs are green, or is it because many "green" things currently carry a price premium? Will they continue to pay more when more people have trained for them? Or, more likely, will they just pay like a normal job?
Next up is a claim of greater unionization. Again, this makes me question what types of jobs they're looking at, and also just brings to mind questions of scale. After all, 90/100 is certainly a higher percentage than 8000/10000, but it doesn't really help that many people. And does unionization really make the middle class stronger?
The most interesting thing of all about the article was the focus on the middle class. Not white-collar, not working poor, but just the middle class. Apparently the green job boom is primarily for the people that already have, but don't have a lot. I was quite surprised to find that Van Jones was present, but reading the bit from his speech makes it clear that it's not really in the same line as the rest of the article. I had the opportunity to listen to Van Jones give a keynote at the Texas Capitol on Feb. 18th on the subject of green jobs, and his message then was the same, that this is an opportunity to create jobs for the poor, and help get them off the streets and into the middle class. Is he right? It's hard to say right now, but in the current economic climate, it doesn't feel like that's going to happen. I suspect that most of the $500 million for green jobs training will end up going to middle class workers that have lost their jobs, because they'll look much more attractive from a training perspective than will the poor that have less training and education.
So what does all this really mean? I'm not sure. It feels like things are being promised that are contradictory (creating more jobs, saving money on electricity, less carbon, and yet the jobs pay more?) and we're being told who the jobs are being targeted to. This raises a corollary question: should an environmental good (carbon reduction) and a social good (helping poor/middle class) be tied together? And even if they are on a policy side, does that make any difference in the end?

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