Inside Bay Area, April 21, 2008: Pathways out of poverty

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EARTH Day is the perfect backdrop to highlight an emerging industry blooming right here in the Bay Area green jobs. Green collar jobs are good for the economy and the environment. “Green” has already become the fifth largest industry in the nation, and with the proper support and funds, the Bay Area is poised to become the epicenter for this industry.

The growth of the green sector is very timely as the economy slides further into a recession. The unemployment rate has increased to 5.1 percent, as 800,000 jobs were eliminated last month; American jobs continue to be outsourced overseas, and 28million people are projected to be on food stamps by 2009. Indeed, green jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty.

These green collar jobs go beyond traditional environmental jobs to include electricians who install solar panels, construction workers who build energy-efficient green buildings, plumbers who install solar water heaters, organic farmers and vocational and trade workers. And of course investing in this emerging industry will add value to our nation’s efforts to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency and allow us to fully take advantage of the coming green economy.

I was proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Green Jobs Act, HR2847, which was included in the historic energy reform bill that was signed into law last December. It authorized up to $125million in funding to establish national and state job training and $25million to create “green pathways out of poverty,” job training for low-income and under-served communities.

This year, however, the Bush administration did not request any funding for green jobs, showing how out of touch they are with the priorities of the American people. States, like California, rely on federal funding to supplement their local resources to help sustain these critical training initiatives. Just this year, the California Legislature has already introduced nine bills focused on green job education and work force infrastructure, demonstrating how local lawmakers view these programs as vital to revitalizing local economies. In the 9th Congressional District we have a variety of organizations, businesses and local leaders committed to the successful implementation of these programs.

In the East Bay, for example, two such efforts deserve increasing support the city of Oakland’s Green Jobs Corps and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Mayor Dellums should be commended for instituting the city’s Green Jobs Corps to help train disadvantaged groups to work in the green industry. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights has provided grass-roots leadership in the green movement and has had tremendous success with its Green-Collar Jobs Campaign. The center recently formed a Green Employer Council, which my office supports, to expand and strengthen its outreach to the local business that would employ graduates from green-jobs training programs. These efforts have been bolstered through the Apollo Alliance, a nationwide coalition of leaders working on an overall environmental agenda. My office works closely with its Oakland chapter and it has been integral in developing forward-thinking ideas to bring the benefits of the green economy to communities most in need.

As a Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, I am working to make sure the federal government fully funds green job programs in the coming year. As co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and co-founder of the Out of Poverty Caucus, I also am working closely with my colleagues to propose a national anti-poverty and opportunity effort with a focus on green jobs. In part, the effort calls for federal funding for the Rebuild and Reinvest in America Initiative to create green jobs and overhaul our nation’s crumbling infrastructure including the backlog in transportation and public housing maintenance and repairs, water treatment system improvements, and school repairs and construction. Rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure provides oppor-

tunity for unskilled and low-income workers and serves as the impetus to expand and promote this much-needed green collar work force.

During these difficult economic times, green collar jobs could make the difference in weathering the economic storm. As we celebrate Earth Day, we should all commit to expanding green jobs to help lift people out of poverty and reshape and revitalize our communities. A good first step would be for Congress and the president to fully fund the green jobs Workforce Training Program so that we can get our economy back on track, and protect our environment at the same time.

Rep. Barbara Lee represents California’s Ninth District in the House of Representatives.

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