A front-page Washington Post article on June 26 raised questions about President Obama’s emphasis on green technology as he talks about U.S. competitiveness and job creation. Much of the criticism centered on favoritism. Only one person raised a fundamental question about the number of jobs Obama’s strategy might yield. And no one raised what should be the second and third questions—What do these jobs pay? And who will get them?
Policy makers and advocates for low-income workers who want to help people move their families out of poverty must ask—and answer—these questions. Not all jobs are created equal, and not all provide equal access. Even if the jobs are plentiful, many may—like the jobs low-skill workers typically get—not pay enough to live on.
When the call for green jobs first came in 2009, the Urban Institute’s Low Income Working Families project analyzed the types of jobs likely to develop under a major green jobs policy initiative. Karin Martinson, Alexandra Stanczyk and Lauren Eyster outlined some of the characteristics of green jobs and the factors that policy makers need to focus on to make sure that low-skill, low-wage workers can advance through this industry to provide a better life for their children.
Number of Green Occupations by Green Sector and Skill Level
There will be many low-paying jobs in green industries—an estimated one-third of the jobs in green construction and manufacturing industries according to some. But if today’s low-wage workers are to get the better paying green jobs they will need training since many are so-called middle skill jobs that require some post-secondary education—often, a combination of on-the-job and classroom training. While low-wage workers may know they need to get additional training, they will need assistance to make it happen. Martinson and her colleagues identify five complementary strategies for opening up the better paying jobs to women as well as men: curricular reforms in training institutions, partnerships between employers and training providers, clearly articulated career paths, financial assistance, and recruitment campaigns to bring non-traditional workers into the industry.
If we are going to worry about whether ” growing” green industries is right for the country, let’s also ask all the right questions, including whether this economic strategy will help workers earn decent wages so they can provide for their families.