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Working In These Times

Friday, Nov 13, 2009, 10:56 am

Got Green? Mobilizing Women and People of Color to Seize the Green Promise

BY Yvonne Liu

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“Green jobs” has become the latest buzz-word, with stimulus monies pouring into green job creation programs around the country. There is a window of opportunity to ensure equity, transparency, and accountability in the green economy, as demonstrated by emerging success stories.

Blacks and Latinos experience unemployment rates that are 70 and 50 percent higher, respectively, than the rate for whites. This is the green promise, that those communities most devastated by the recession—women and people of color–can mobilize to ride the green wave.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), enacted this past February, will disburse $787 billion in stimulus funds over the next 10 years, with most of the money allocated this year and next. More than $200 billion was earmarked for programs that would directly or indirectly generate green jobs. Though stimulus recipients must comply with all anti-discrimination laws, racial and gender equity are not mandated in the recovery nor is race or gender data being collected.

Equity is important not only in the Recovery Act, but future legislation, such as the climate bill. A coalition of civil rights and environmental organizations led by Green For All secured the eleventh-hour addition of two major provisions (local access to green jobs and nearly $1 billion for green jobs training) to the House version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). They are working to maintain these provisions in the Senate bill being debated now. Such provisions represent an important step to ensuring equity in the green economy.

Examples of green equity success stories are emerging. In Los Angeles, a local chapter of the Apollo Alliance, convened by the community organization Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), won the passage of a green retrofit ordinance for municipal buildings that will create high quality jobs for communities of color struggling with the economic crisis. Green for All worked with the city of Portland, Oregon to endorse a community workforce agreement to ensure the participation of local women and people of color in residential retrofit projects. Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has influenced public policy to promote urban agriculture and access to fresh produce and healthy food options for residents who are majority people of color.

A look at the existing race and gender demographics comprising the green economy reveals vast race and gender disparities. White men dominate green occupations across all sectors, according to 2008 Census data. Analysis by the Women of Color Policy Network showed that Black and Latinos comprise less than 30 percent of those employed in green industries and occupations. Gender disparities are even starker. Black women are employed in only 1.5 percent of jobs in the energy sector, and it’s even worse for Latino and Asian women, who are employed at 1.0 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

Successful green jobs programs have been designed to include equity success outcomes to benefit women and people of color. Without data collection on these indicators to establish a baseline and measure progress over time, women and people of color will be left behind. Applied Research Center has developed a toolkit that provides steps to promote and implement policies to guarantee equity and inclusion in the green economy.

Specific measures of equity include, but are not limited to, green jobs that provide at least a living wage and a clear pathway for professional development, elimination of employment barriers to people of color such as those with prior convictions, and qualitative improvements to community and workplace health, safety, and environment.

Existing legal provisions must also be incorporated into new green jobs programs and ordinances. Such laws will protect the rights of women and communities of color as they enter the green economy. These include equal opportunity laws, affirmative action provisions, local hiring and training ordinances, wage and hour standards, and safety and health standards.

If equity factors prominently into the equation, an expanded green economy has tremendous potential to positively transform our communities, sustain the environment and lift the quality of all our lives. But this won’t happen by chance. We must work to ensure that equity -- gender, racial and economic equity -- is central to green principles and practice. Federal government programs are crucial for funding green equity initiatives, but ultimately the power lies in local communities to advance equity in the green economy -- for our communities, and for the planet.

Yvonne Liu is Senior Research Associate at the Applied Research Center and co-author of the just released Green Equity Toolkit: Standards and Strategies for Advancing Race, Gender and Economic Equity in the Green Economy.

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