African Americans & the Green Revolution: A Report from the National Urban League Policy Institute

Article excerpt

As the United States economy nears the end of what has been the longest recession in post-World War II history1 the question on everyone's mind seems to be, what will be the engine that drives economic expansion into the future? Put differently what will be the next impetus for innovation, a force that has commonly propelled the evolution of the American economy from one generation to the next? Much like what information technology (minus the bubble) did for job growth during the 1990s, already some are hoping that the "greening of America" will offer a much needed post-millenial boost to the American economy, particularly as it pertains to jobs.

The term "green" is used to define products or services that have a positive impact on energy and/or environmental sustainability.2 Though the idea of green living was once reserved primarily for diehard environmentalists, today the green lifestyle is promoted in almost every facet of mainstream American society, including national economic policy and our First Lady's White House garden. In fact, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 20Og included $85 billion in direct spending and tax cuts for energy and transportation-related programs intended to jump start America's transition to a green economy by creating jobs and encouraging private investment in a more energy-efficient economy.

This report considers some of the estimates and projections from an ever-growing body of literature on the green economy and green jobs in order to evaluate employment opportunities for African American workers, a group that has persistently experienced unemployment rates twice that of their white counterparts. We begin with a working definition of green jobs as outlined by the Workforce Information Council (WIC) Green Jobs Study Group. Using Current Population Survey data, we evaluate trends in unemployment over the past two years for a previously defined set of representative green economy occupations and explore these trends in light of national and state-level growth projections for the green economy. Based on this information, we examine the role of the National Urban League in facilitating the transition to a green economy for the communities we serve and conclude with a discussion of current legislation and policies.

Defining Green Jobs and the Green Economy

Despite extensive usage of the term "green" to define all things (even remotely) eco-friendly or energy efficient, the discussion about what constitutes a green job continues to be ongoing and a definitive answer remains a work in progress. In October 2009, the WIC Green Jobs Study Group released its Final Report on Measurement and Analysis of Employment in the Green Economy. In this report they propose the following working definition of green jobs based on a review of existing green concepts and definitions from 43 studies:

A green job is one in which the work is essential to products or services that improve energy efficiency, expand the use of renewable energy, or support environmental sustainability. The job involves work in any of these green economic activity categories:

* Renewable Energy and Alternative Fuels

* Energy Efficiency and Conservation

* Pollution, Waste and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Management, Prevention, and Reduction

* Environmental Cleanup and Remediation and Waste Cleanup and Mitigation

* Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation

* Education, Regulation, Compliance, Public Awareness, and Training and Energy Trading.'

Though the exact categories used to identify different types of green jobs vary from one study to the next, each of them describes a green job as being connected to a green economic activity. There is also general consensus among researchers that many of the "new" jobs will involve a restructuring of currently existing occupations and skills to meet the demands of a more energy efficient economy. …