In advance of Earth Day, Van Jones, Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), hosted a tele-conference with members of the Black press last week April 8. Jones, a lawyer, has been internationally-recognized for his advocacy work in underserved communities. This work is centered around promoting green-collar jobs and opportunities for disadvantaged communities.
Prior to joining the CEQ, Jones served as the CEO for Green for All, an Oakland, CA based non-profit organization focused on developing and educating individuals about opportunities in emerging green industries.
President Barack Obama has made the development of green jobs a formal plank in his comprehensive economic recovery plan through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This unprecedented legislation is designed to address America’s economic crisis by putting Americans back to work. According to the Department of Labor, since the recession started in 2007, 5.1 million jobs have been lost, with almost two-thirds (3.3 million) of the decrease occurring in the last five months.
“The African American community has been hit twice as hard during this recession,” said Jones. African Americans and other communities of color are disproportionately unemployed; 13.3% compared to 7.9% for white men.
Green jobs, said Jones is one way to get Americans back to work. To fix the unemployment crisis, said Jones, rungs need to be placed on a ladder “and those are green rungs; the president understands this. In reality, Obama is the first green president,” he said.
Under Recovery Act, specific funds have been allocated for the development of and training for green jobs which include weatherizing homes, installing solar panels and replacing 30-year-old home boilers with newer, more efficient models. “We can get people working and cut household spending on heating bills,” said Jones.
The Obama administration is committed to developing and moving the country towards the “clean fuels of the future and we need the workers of the future to do this,” said Jones.
These workers include young, urban African Americans and other communities of color. And preparing this demographic for green jobs includes aggressively dispelling the myth of what it means to be an environmentalist, said Jones.
“African Americans think we’re talking about other people when were talking about the green economy. But this is something everyone can participate in. There have been $500 million of job training money that’s going through the Department of Labor which will be for preparing people for these jobs,” said Jones.
He provided a classic example of how the green job movement can create “pathways” out of poverty. He said, “You have someone who installs solar panels. When the industry grows, that person then becomes a manager, then later on an owner of his/her own solar panel installation business.
“Urban cities produce about 75% of green house emissions and fixing this problem requires jobs,” said Jones. “Creating smarter transportation requires jobs. Solar panels don’t put themselves up.
“The urban community is ground zero.Young people can put down the hand gun and pick up a caulking gun –it’s safer and they can earn more money,” he said.
Money for green jobs contracts come from the federal government via the Energy and Labor Departments. ‘This money then goes to governors, then city mayors and then to communities,” said Jones.
He advised paying close attention to government websites and actively seeking out information when it comes to competing for green contracts. Further, said Jones, “The Office of Management and Budget has issued guidelines and language that underscores that the Recovery Act should be disbursed consistent with the goals of the administration. There will be a green wave that lifts all boats.”