Authors: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins
Cross-posted from New Deal 2.0.
In the wake of the highest unemployment rate in 25 years, the Roosevelt Institute asked historians, economists and other public thinkers to reflect on the lessons of the New Deal and explore new, big ideas for how to get America back to work. Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins argues for clean energy investments that will create 1.7 million jobs for the people who need them the most.
It's difficult for most Americans to accept data indicating an end to the recession for a simple reason -- they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. Despite a quarter of growth, the unemployment rate has topped 10%, the highest it has been since 1983. Among people of color, the rates are even higher, with Latino unemployment exceeding 13%, and unemployment in the African-American community just shy of 16%. Economic growth does not mean that Americans experience economic relief; without stable jobs for everyday Americans, this cannot be considered a recovery. Recovery necessitates that jobs be created -- jobs that provide stable employment for years, not months.
Green shoots of an employment recovery are showing through the investments made under President Obama's Recovery Act, which is already producing impressive innovation and the beginnings of job and wealth creation in green industries. Clean-energy sectors, which hold the promise of being major engines of job growth, are creating opportunities for those communities hit hardest by the recession: low-income communities and communities of color.
Portland, Oregon, for example, is using Recovery Act investments to launch a revolving loan fund that will help residents pay for energy-efficiency improvements to their homes. This program will save energy, save money and create 10,000 local jobs. A groundbreaking Community Workforce Agreement will further ensure that those jobs are available to workers from low-income and other disadvantaged communities.
In New York City, Recovery Act investments are helping the Community Environmental Center (CEC) hire more workers and weatherize more buildings. The largest Weatherization Assistance Program provider in the state, CEC is a union shop providing good wages and benefits. And thanks to a partnership between the union (the Laborers Local 10) and Non-Traditional Employment for Women, women and historically disadvantaged workers have the opportunity to win those jobs.
These local examples reinforce what larger, national investigations have shown. In our report Green Prosperity, Green For All, the Political Economy Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that clean-energy investment creates roughly three to four times as many jobs as comparable investment in fossil fuel industries. The report estimates that investing $150 billion (public and private) in clean energy will create a net gain of 1.7 million jobs. Renewable energy and energy efficiency replace the damage done to our environment by fossil fuels with good, sustainable jobs for American workers. Building a green economy involves more than a shift to clean energy -- it will provide a shift to a more skilled and labor-intensive economy.
The Recovery Act is promising -- but it is only a beginning. Congress and the president must take the next step: enacting strong climate and energy legislation. The Clean Energy Jobs Act, just reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will invest public money in clean energy. But moreover, it will also encourage private investment and innovation by sending a clear message: clean energy is the future of our economy. Those who invest early and robustly will be reap the benefits.
There are ways, though, that the Clean Energy Jobs Act can be made even stronger. We must to increase clean-energy investments while fully protecting low-income consumers from price hikes. We must protect two key provisions: the Green Construction Careers Demonstration Project and funding for the Green Jobs Act. These provisions ensure that the bill not only creates jobs, but that all of America's workers have access to and are ready for these jobs - particularly the workers impacted most severely by the economy'sdownturn.
An economic recovery, after all, is not a percentage point noted in a press release. A real recovery is one in which Americans can be confident that, regardless of where they live or what they look like, they have an opportunity to succeed in the economy. We must measure our true progress by a different metric: the number of career-track, green jobs that we create for those Americans who need them most.