Green Jobs Programs to Drive Economic Recovery

Green Jobs Programs to Drive Economic Recovery

Monday, June 15, 2009



Green Jobs Programs to Drive Economic Recovery

For awhile now the U.S. has inadequately invested in the development of urban and rural America, leaving many families and communities struggling to make ends meet.  At the same time, we face an environmental crisis in the form of global climate change and the challenge of reducing our dependence on fossil fuel.

Our current economic crisis provides us an opportunity to reinvest in some of our countries most blighted areas.  In the words of the organization Green for All, "new transit spending and energy audits in inner cities to windmills and biomass in our nation's heartland, green jobs mean a reinvestment in the communities hardest hit in recent decades."  Correctly structured, a clean energy economy and green jobs can provide many low-income and currently unemployed individuals a bridge from poverty to economic independence.

For years, right wing activists propagated the myth that a strong environment and good jobs were incompatible.  The result of this divisive strategy was the undermining of both wage standards and environmental planning.  In recent years, however, environmentalist and labor advocates have formed new progressive alliances, working together to promote a clean energy economy with good green jobs that protect both our environment and our workers.

Now advocates for a clean energy economy and green jobs find themselves with a friend in the White House.  Since elected, President Obama has repeatedly articulated a commitment to addressing climate change issues and developing renewable energy sources, both to improve the environment and also as tools to help rejuvenate the worst economy since the Great Depression.  The $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, passed to stimulate our economy, was mainly focused on putting people back to work.  Approximately $70 billion of this money was directed towards the nation’s energy economy, most of it for “green” energy.  Specifically, the stimulus plan will shift federal funds into several energy-related areas, including but not limited to: $16.8 billion for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs;  $5 billion to install energy efficiency improvements in the homes of low-income families; $4.5 billion to develop a digital electric grid and $100 million for the training of electric grid workers; and $3.4 billion for fossil energy research and development.  Even more recently, Vice President Biden announced plans to dedicate $500 million from the ARRA funds to train housing project residents to weatherize homes and perform other green jobs.

The economic recovery program could "create or save 2.5 million green jobsdesigning, building and maintaining renewable energy projects and increasing the energy efficiency of schools, homes and federal office buildings."  According to a recently published report 100 Days 100 Projects, it appears that even in a relatively short period of time the stimulus money has had some positive impact on the green job market.  According to President Obama, “[i]n these last few months, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs -- jobs building solar panels and wind turbines, making homes and buildings more energy efficient.”  

This Dispatch will focus on the long-term investments and policies that will be central to the creation of good jobs in a 21st century green economy. 


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Building Strategic Clean Energy and Green Job Initiatives

The term "green jobs" is multi-faceted, used to describe the good-paying, career-track, sustainable jobs that are created through environmentally sensible projects. Such jobs include: working with renewable energy, new construction jobs for weatherization projects, rehabbing buildings for energy efficiency, the creation of better transit systems, and new jobs in manufacturing and service industries re-engineered for a clean energy economy.  Since the term green jobs is so broad, states should focus on the clean energy sectors and green job opportunities that hold the most promise for their location and population.  This Dispatch will specifically focus on the benefits of clean energy manufacturing jobs that will provide opportunities to rebuild the middle class, as well as weatherization programs that can incorporate job creation with community improvements.

Current Status of States Clean Energy Economy:  There is tremendous growth potential in a clean energy economy.  While in 2007, clean energy jobs represented a fraction of all jobs in the U.S., between 1998 and 2007, these jobs grew by 9.1% compared to a 3.7% growth rate for total jobs.  According to recent study by Pew Center on the States, states with clean energy economies can be placed into six different categories based on job figures from 1998-2007.

  • Large and Fast Growing:  3 states - COOR and TN - have large clean energy economies that are growing fast.  In 2007, these states exceeded the national average for both the number of clean energy jobs and the average annual growth rate for those jobs.  It is worth noting that these states are geographically diverse, highlighting that location is not the only factor in the success of a state's clean energy economy.  
  • Small and Fast Growing:  15 states - AZHIIAIDKSLAMEMSNENV,NMNDSCSDWY and DC - have small but fast growing clean economies.  These states had fewer clean energy jobs than the national average in 2007, but exceeded the national average annual growth rate.
  • Large and Growing:  12 states - CAFLGA, INMAMIMNNCOHTXVA, and WA - have large and growing clean energy economies.  In 2007, these states exceeded the national averages for the number of clean energy jobs and their clean energy sectors are growing at a moderate yet steady rate.  
  • Small and Growing:  12 other states - ALAKARCTDEKYMOMTNHOK,RI and VT - have small but growing clean economies.  They had fewer clean energy jobs than the national average in 2007, but displayed some annual growth.
  • Large and Losing:  4 states - ILNJNY, and PA - each have large clean energy economies, however they have experienced a net loss of clean energy jobs over the past ten years.  
  • Small and Losing:  4 states - MDUTWV, and WI - have fewer than average jobs in the clean energy economy in 2007 and experienced net losses in these jobs over the past 10 years.  

Aspects of Well Thought-Out Clean Energy and Green Job Initiatives:  As states continue to grow the clean energy economy and green jobs, investments will need to be made in training and facilities with a strategic approach to the development of a clean energy economy and green jobs.  Among other things, a strategic approach includes targeting specific sectors that have the most promise for an individual state using good data on labor market opportunities.  In addition, states should build strategic partnerships, tie green jobs to overall community and workforce development, employ energy standards as a green job stimulus, and require that companies receiving clean energy tax subsidies and grants meet high labor and community benefits standards.  As programs progress it will be important for states to continuously measure, evaluate, and improve green job programs.


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Fostering Good Green Jobs can Help Rebuild the Middle Class and Incorporate Job Creation into Community Development

Nationwide, wages are stagnant, manufacturing jobs are declining, and more than one in five working Americans hold poverty wage jobs.  At the same time, the development of a clean energy economy presents us with an opportunity to create good-paying green jobs, such as machinists and technicians.

The Clean Energy Sector:  States can help to rebuild the middle class by investing in the clean energy sector.  As the clean energy sector expands,numerous jobs directly correlated with creating, storing, and distributing renewable power will be created.  While currently this sector is less developed than more traditional green jobs, such as jobs in the pollution mitigation sector, it is growing rapidly.  Predicted to be the backbone of the clean energy economy, if fostered and structured correctly, the clean energy sector can be one of the major pieces in the rebuilding of a stronger and more environmentally friendly economy.

Loss of Manufacturing Jobs Negatively Impacts the Middle Class: This yearMichigan saw its unemployment rate climb to 12.6%, in part due to the closing of many Detroit-based auto manufacturers.  In an attempt to rebuild its crumbling economy, Governor Granholm has created a "No Worker Left Behind" program, which in part, aims to create green jobs for Michigan residents.  Michigan is not alone in its need to find replacement jobs for manufacturer workers.  More than one million U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost since December 2007, with a total of 4.6 million vanished since 1999.  Many of these were the country's best middle class jobs.  As these jobs disappear, with a substantial number of them going overseas, workers are often forced to take lower-paying jobs or even worse left jobless.  The result is a shrinking middle class and a deepening of the gap between the wealthy and the poor in our country.

Investments in Clean Energy Can Help Rebuild the Middle Class: It is estimated that by 2016 the domestic market for clean energy products, such as solar panels and wind turbines, will reach $226 billion annually.  Over the next 20 years, as demand for solar and wind power rises, approximately 70%-80% of new jobs created in these industries will be in the manufacturing sector.  Like traditional blue-collar jobs that have been disappearing from our economy over the past decades, these green-collar jobs, if structured correctly, will pay family wages, provide benefits, and offer opportunities for career advancement.  According to an Apollo Alliance report, for every $1 million invested in renewable energy systems, approximately five full time component manufacturing jobs are created. Further, the report found that for every $1 million invested in energy efficiency programs, three to four building-material manufacturing and five energy efficient appliance manufacturing jobs are created. Even more "indirect" jobs, in areas such as finance, transportation, and installation, will be created as result of the sector's overall growth.

However, in order to benefit from the growing demand for renewable energy products in our country, the U.S. needs to invest in the necessary generation and production facilities, as well as worker training programs.  For example, currently, about half of America's existing wind turbines were built overseas and the U.S. ranks 5thamong countries producing solar energy components, despite the fact that the solar cell was created here.  The U.S. must be proactive and focus our economic strategies on a green economy to fully capitalize on the opportunities at our fingertips and to ensure that we do not lose out to other countries who are prepared to deliver these products. 


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Energy Efficiency in Homes: Weatherization

Buildings account for 40% of U.S energy consumption.  Often living in the least efficient housing in the country, the typical poor household spends 14% of its gross income on energy bills. In fact, among low income households, unanticipated utility bills are the second leading cause of foreclosures.  However, as energy prices rise, the economy continues to struggle and people cannot find work, meeting household energy bills is becoming an increasing burden not just for families with incomes at or near the poverty level, but also for individuals above the poverty line.  Weatherization of buildings can help reduce energy bills, while also creating jobs. 

According to David Goldstein, of the National Resource Defense Council, "energy efficiency is the biggest, cheapest and fastest, new energy resource available to the U.S."  It has been estimated that families whose homes are weatherized can expect to save $350 per year on their energy bills.  Some ways to make homes and buildings more energy efficient are to insulate walls, caulk air infiltration locations and replace old energy inefficient appliances.

Stimulus Provides Funds To Create Weatherization Jobs:  The federal stimulus package provides $5 billion to help fund the Weatherization Assistance Program.  Congress estimates that this new level of funding will help weatherize approximatelyone million more homes.  According to the New York Times, the federal Energy Department's Weatherization Project Director, Gil Sperlin, predicts that weatherizing a million homes annually would directly create about 78,000 jobs for a year.  While these jobs will only make up a very small portion of the millions of green-collar jobs that have been promised by President Obama, “it’s a decent number of jobs per dollar spent,” said Harry J. Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University and at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit group in Washington. “The work is productive and the jobs are at a mix of skill levels.”

Two positive aspects of the green weatherization jobs created under the ARRA are the existence of a prevailing wage requirement and the fact that weatherization jobs cannot be shipped overseas.  First, the ARRA specifically states that "all laborers and mechanics employed by contractors or subcontractors on projects funded directly by or assisted in whole or in part by or through the Federal government pursuant to the Recovery Act shall be paid" a prevailing wage.  This requirement will help ensure that workers are being fairly compensated.  Second, weatherization jobs are perfectly designed to use local labor to improve local houses.  However, state and municipal weatherization and retrofitting projects will need to be tied to training programs, since there is a shortage of qualified workers.  

Newark Uses Weatherization Projects to Create Good Union Jobs:  When policy leaders are implementing weatherization programs funded under the ARRA, it is important that programs are evaluated not only with a strict cost-benefit analysis, but also in terms of community development.  "Small-scale, locally-run programs can help largely low-income communities begin to control their own energy destinies while creating jobs and teaching weatherization skills."   A recent weatherization program undertaken in Newark  provides a model program on how weatherization projects can be used to spur community development.   Mayor Cory Booker, the Laborer's International Union of North America (LIUNA), and the Garden State Alliance for a New Economy (GANE) initiated a partnership to offer residents union-trained green construction jobs.  The first training class were taught green construction skills while weatherizing the homes of seniors and low-income families.  Trainees earned both accreditation and union wages, while also receiving health benefits.


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Ensuring Green Jobs are Good Jobs

Green jobs are not simply band-aids to be used during difficult economic times, but are integral to our long-term economic growth.  Therefore, while most of the conversations to date regarding green jobs have focused on the quantity of jobs, it is just as important to ensure that these new green jobs are quality jobs.  Quality green jobs should be well paid, have benefits and be career track jobs. According to Good Jobs First, by creating good green jobs, we can address not only plummeting unemployment rates and climate change issues, but also combat deeply rooted social problems, such as poverty and inequality.

Strategies for Creating Quality Jobs:  The fact that many of the companies that will be pivotal in building our clean energy economy receive taxpayer support, either directly or indirectly, can be used to encourage more employers to embrace strong labor protections. Good Jobs First has outlined numerous actions state and federal leaders should consider to ensure that green jobs are good jobs, including:

  • Attach self-sufficiency wage requirements to subsidies;
  • Apply wage standards to government contractors;
  • Strengthen prevailing wage requirements;
  • Adopt best value contracting;
  • Expand the use of project labor agreements;
  • Add labor standards to LEED standards;
  • Use claw backs to ensure job quality standards;
  • Use web-based disclosure.

Providing Training So Residents Can Participate in a Clean Energy Economy:  The speed in which the U.S. can transition to a clean energy economy will be impacted by the skill-level of the country's available workforce.  Although many green jobs will require workers either to transform their job skills so that they can be utilized by new industries or to obtain new skills, with well structured training programs green jobs are accessible to individuals with less developed skills.  Therefore, in order to ensure that residents have the skills necessary to obtain good paying green jobs, states need to invest in workforce development and worker training programs.  The first step to crafting green job training programs is for states to identify the actual skills that their clean energy economy demands.  Once a state identifies the skills that will be needed for their green economy, they need to develop or revamp training programs so that they prepare a qualified workforce.  

State green job training programs should aim to, among other things:

  • Create region and sector specific economic development that is locally sustainable.  In determining high-demand industries to invest in, it is imperative to use good labor and industry data.
  • Measure and evaluate performance to determine the success of programs and identify areas where improvements could be made. 
  • Build partnerships between industry, labor groups, government and communities that can help guide workforce development and tie training to practical experience.
  • Tie economic development to community development.  Develop career pathwaysthat provide workers with accessible training in manageable increments that will help them acquire better jobs with higher wages and better benefits.  Training programs should be created in a manner that accommodates family obligations and other challenges.

Some states and cities have already developed coordinated workforce development and training programs for green jobs. 

  • In 2008, the Governor of Washington submitted legislation that in part created a green jobs initiative.  Three components of the legislation included a detailed analysis of the labor market to determine the kind and quality of green jobs in demand, partnerships of key stakeholders to develop strategic plans for closing skills gaps for green jobs in specific industries, and the establishment of a fund to pay for training and other worker support.  The Legislature approved the bill and while changes were made to the original legislation, the link it establishes between climate protection and green jobs provides a good model.
  • Oregon provides a good model for how states can implement within institutions and workplaces, education and training programs aimed at developing a skilled green workforce.  Click here to read Opportunity Maine's Case Study of the Oregon program.
  • The Los Angeles Infrastructure and Sustainable Jobs Collaborative has created a Green Careers Initiative.  The Collaborative brings together community partners, such as industry, unions, and education institutions, to create education, training, and workforce infrastructure that connects disadvantaged populations to good jobs.  


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Model Green Jobs Legislation

With increased focus on the environment, and in the aftermath of the ARRA, hundreds of green jobs bills were introduced in the states this legislative session. Below is a sampling of some model bills introduced in 2008 and 2009. 

Washington has been a leader in the green jobs arena for the past couple of years.  During the 2009 session,  Senate Bill 5649 was signed into law.  This law aggregates all federal Recovery Act dollars directed towards energy efficiency, and attaches labor standards.  Community leaders,  including those from faith-based organizations, non-profits, and unions, worked tirelessly on developing and passing this legislation alongside their state legislators.  Among other things, the legislation puts Washington on the path to weatherize and otherwise make more energy efficient, 100,000 homes and buildings over the next five years.  In addition, the law creates an Energy Efficiency Improvement Program, which will provide grants and technical assistance to neighborhood energy-efficiency projects throughout the state. The law also includes requirements that contractors employ workers from training and apprentice programs, pay prevailing wages, hire locally, and provide opportunities to veterans and low-income individuals. For low-income weatherization programs, the law prioritizes programs which provide career pathways out of poverty and into construction trades.

A 8377, introduced in New York, creates a Green Jobs Task Force, which will conduct a study of the state's green economy labor market needs, inventory training programs to identify gaps in existing programs, expand existing green jobs training programs, and target training towards disadvantaged populations through a variety of measures including ensuring access and establishing coordinated green career pathways.  

In California, the California Energy Commission adopted the state’s first transportation Investment Plan.  The Alternative and Renewable Fuels and Vehicle Technology Program's Investment Plan allocates $176 million over the next two years to stimulate green transportation projects and encourage innovation to help meet the state's aggressive climate change policies.  The Alternative and Renewable Fuels Vehicle Technology Program was established by AB 118, which authorizes the Energy Commission to provide approximately $120 million annually over seven years to develop these new fuels and technologies and ensure that they are accessible to the public, and encourage motorists and fleet operators to purchase new advanced vehicles.  According to a release by the California Energy Commission, in its newly adopted Investment Plan, the Commission proposes to increase the use of low carbon fuels and cleaner vehicles as well as develop a market for more exotic technologies that will be used in the future.  Further, the Commissions plans to invest $46 million for electric vehicles, public charging stations, and manufacturing plants; $40 million for hydrogen fueling stations; $12 million for advanced ethanol fuel production facilities and E-85 fueling stations; $43 million for natural gas vehicles, fueling stations and biomethane production facilities; $6 million for advanced renewable diesel and bio diesel facilities; and $2 million for propane vehicles, over the next two years. The Investment Plan also directs $27 million go to fund workforce training programs, research, public education and technical assistance programs.

In 2008, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed HB 5018.  The Green Jobs Act created the Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center to serve as the state’s lead agency on the green economy.  The Center will focus on stimulating clean energy sector jobs, promoting job training, and conducting research to identify clean energy industry barriers and job training needs.  The Act also established the Alternative and Clean Energy Investment Trust Fund to stimulate green economy growth in the state.  Under the Act the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs is authorized to use $1,000,000 from the Fund in fiscal year 2009 for:

  • A seed grant program for clean energy companies, institutions or nonprofit organizations;
  • A workforce development grant program to award grants to universities and colleges, vocational technical schools or community-based organizations with existing or potential workforce development programs in clean energy;
  • A pathways out of poverty initiative to award five competitive grants to clean energy companies, community-based nonprofit organizations, educational institutions or labor organizations for training programs that lead to economic self-sufficiency.


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Building a clean energy economy and investing in green jobs will improve our economy and environment as well as provide unemployed and low-income workers an opportunity to obtain good jobs.  By structuring green jobs correctly, we can rebuild our middle class and incorporate economic development with community development. 


Green Jobs Programs to Drive Economic Recovery

Pew Charitable Trusts - The Clean Energy Economy 
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 
Stimulus to Fund Thousands of New, Green Jobs - 100 Days 100 Projects 
Green For All - Green-Collar Jobs Overview  

Building Strategic Clean Energy and Green Job Initiatives

Good Jobs First High Road or Low Road?  Job Quality In the New Green Economy 
Pew Charitable Trusts - The Clean Energy Economy 
Green For All - Green Pathways Out of Poverty: Workforce Development Initiatives 
Center on Wisconsin Strategy, Workforce Alliance, Apollo Alliance - Greener Pathways:  Jobs and Workforce Development in a Clean Energy Economy 

Fostering Good Green Jobs can Help Rebuild the Middle Class and Incorporate Job Creation into Community Development

The Clean Energy Economy 
Apollo Alliance - Make it in America 
Green For All - Green-Collar Jobs Overview 

Energy Efficiency in Homes: Weatherization

Good Jobs First - High Road or Low Road?  Job Quality In the New Green Economy 
Stimulus for Homes: Obama's $5 Billion Weatherization Plan 
Focus on Weatherization Is Shift on Energy Costs
Government stimulus projects include wage requirements
Energy Costs, Conservation, and the Poor
Laborers Join Newark to Train Residents in Weatherization

Ensuring Green Jobs are Good Jobs

Opportunity Maine - Green Jobs Green Savings 
Good Jobs First - High Road or Low Road?  Job Quality In the New Green Economy 
Center on Wisconsin Strategy, Workforce Alliance, Apollo Alliance - Greener Pathways:  Jobs and Workforce Development in a Clean Energy Economy
Green For All - Washington State Climate Action and Green Jobs Bill 
The LA Infrastructure and Sustainable Jobs Collaborative 

Model Green Jobs Legislation

Washington Senate Bill 5649  New York AB8377 
California Energy Commission Adopts Far-Reaching Green Transportation Plan 
California Energy Commission Adopts $176M Green Transportation Plan 
Green For All - Massachusetts Green Jobs Act of 2008


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Interim Executive Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Executive Administrator and Outreach Associate
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Mike Maiorini, Online Technology Manager
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator


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