This article originally appeared in the February - March 2010 Newsletter.
As Bread went to press, we saw one of the first signs of hope for families hit hard by the economic recession: The government reported that the national unemployment rate decreased from 10 percent in December 2009 to 9.7 percent in January 2010.
As economists debate whether the recession is “over,” we must remember that low-income people are among the last to recover from recessions. In reporting the January unemployment figures, The New York Times noted the “dissonance between the tepid recovery for the jobs market and robust turnaround for Wall Street.”
Although the unemployment rate was holding steady at the end of 2009, the economy lost 150,000 jobs in December alone—many in traditional blue-collar sectors such as construction and manufacturing. The “jobless recoveries” and stagnant wages of recent years call into question whether low-income Americans will experience a meaningful recovery.
Bread for the World Institute’s Hunger 2010: A Just and Sustainable Recovery takes a close look at how an emphasis on “green” jobs can help both workers and the environment.
Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute, said, “The focus now for our nation’s lawmakers should be on job creation. One of the best investments we can make—one that would both create jobs and put our economy on a sustainable path—is to invest in clean energy and re-tool our aging infrastructure. This would create millions of green jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors.”
Most green jobs are simply traditional jobs—for example, in the building trades—that use environmentally-friendly materials and methods.
Buildings consume 43 percent of all the energy used in the United States. Simple improvements, such as adding insulation, switching to more efficient lighting, caulking leaks to prevent the loss of heating and cooling, and installing more energy-efficient windows and doors, could cut carbon emissions of such energy use by 70 percent.
A wide range of skills are needed for green jobs, and people can be trained fairly quickly. Low-income neighborhoods have some of the highest concentrations of old buildings, so investments in green jobs can help local residents as well as the environment.
For example, Sustainable South Bronx was founded in 2001 to help make the low-income neighborhood of Hunt’s Point, in New York City’s Bronx borough, a leader in the fledgling green jobs movement. The organization trains workers in trades such as weatherization, landscaping, toxic waste cleanup, ecological restoration, and green-roof installation. As A Just and Sustainable Recovery reported, “After decades of neglect and decay, the neighborhood itself can provide all the hands-on instruction needed to produce trained workers in these disciplines.”
Sustainable South Bronx executive director Miquela Craytor emphasized that the training program is focused equally on helping individuals and helping the community. “We are trying to create pathways out of poverty,” she said.
For more information and examples of how green jobs can fuel a just and sustainable economic recovery, visit www.hungerreport.org.