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September 01, 2011

Green Jobs to Be Addressed by Obama on September 8



With initial unemployment claims rising to 417,000 for the week of August 20, the American public is focused anxiously on job creation – including the five million “green jobs” that President Barack Obama promised last January. Yesterday, the president scheduled a speech on the economy for September 8, which is, aptly enough, just three days after the nation celebrates Labor Day.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama asked for a joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate at 8 p.m. to lay out his plan to create jobs and boost economic growth.

 “It is our responsibility to find bipartisan solutions to help grow our economy, and if we are willing to put country before party, I am confident we can do just that,” the president said.

His proposals could include programs to fund infrastructure building, measures to help struggling homeowners, and tax breaks to encourage hiring of new workers. But will he really create more jobs and how many of them will be green?

The Brookings Institution, in partnership with Battelle, recently published a study on the “clean economy,” putting the current number of green jobs at 2.7 million in the United States – out of a total of about 135 million.

Some top Congressional Democrats are losing faith in President Obama’s employment initiative. “Of course, we want to be a part of the new innovation and the green jobs,” Rep. Maxine Waters of California said on MSNBC on August 18. “But you know, the green jobs have been about a lot of talk and not a lot has been happening on that.” A few hours later, also on MSNBC, Waters said flatly: “All of this talk about the green jobs never materialized.”

This is not entirely the case, according to Ezra Drissman, who manages the website, Green Careers Guide, out of Detroit. In an exclusive interview with Green Technology World, Drissman noted that the site carries about 200 to 300 unique, new green career opportunities every week – many of them from the developing U.S. “greenbelts” in North Carolina, Washington State, Oregon, and California. 

“However,” he remarked, “there are many green jobs where you wouldn’t expect to see them. Iowa is right at the forefront of wind energy development, as is Texas. Even here in Detroit, where unemployment is roughly at 15 percent, we are creating ‘green battery’ jobs that support the auto industry.”

What are the top green jobs? “For people with college degrees, most of the jobs are in the engineering sector,” said Drissman. “For those who are high school graduates or unskilled laborers, construction is the way to go. Cleantech needs people to build the wind turbines and other green systems after the engineers design them.”

As for training, “Either get it on the job or go to a community college,” Drissman suggested. “The community colleges are more affordable and they are built to help people get a job.”

Meanwhile, in related news, a study by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Collaborative's (MARC) Green Consortium last month found that there are 235,600 green jobs in Washington, D.C.; Maryland; and Virginia—and that number is expected to grow by 12 percent in the next two years. The report projects green growth in construction, professional, scientific, technical, and waste management services.

Still, at its Labor Day briefing session, the business lobby group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it remained skeptical that a tax break would create jobs. “Companies don't invest and hire people just because they have more cash,” said Martin Regalia, the group's chief economist. “They hire people when they can put those people to work producing a product or a service that they can sell at a profit. That's what they do. And right now the economy isn't presenting that opportunity.”

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Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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