ECONOMIC RECOVERY ACT FORUM: Green Recovery for a Few--Why Equity is Necessary to Ensure Green Jobs for Women and POC

By Yvonne Liu*

One year has passed since the Obama administration enacted the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the largest boon to public spending and the safety net since the New Deal. Last week, President Obama linked economic recovery to investments in clean energy and green job creation in his State of the Union address.

More than $200 billion of the stimulus package was earmarked for projects that would either directly or indirectly create green jobs. Initial estimates on recovery-funded jobs fall just under 600,000 for the second quarter, October through December 2009. The administration changed how these jobs are counted: there is no distinction between jobs created or saved. All fall under the criteria of those funded by the stimulus. The green recovery cannot aid Americans, if job creation is not prioritized.

Applied Research Center (ARC) cited findings in the Green Equity Toolkit (November 2009) that across all green sectors, most jobs are held by white men. Blacks and Latinos are employed in less than 30% of green occupations. Gender disparities are even more stark: white women are employed in only 5.7% of energy sector jobs, Black women in 1.5%, and Latina and Asian women at less than 1%. Recovery funds shouldn’t be used to preserve the status quo, but to create genuine opportunities for people of color and women in the green economy.

This extends to green business ownership: firms owned by people of color have been shut out of loans established by the Recovery Act. New America Media reported that over 91% of small business loans went to white-owned companies. Only 3% went to Asian- and Latino-owned businesses. Black-owned firms received only 1.5% of the recovery loans. The lack of equity standards reinforces the racial disparities in green business ownership.

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 out. 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.

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 coauthor of the just released Green Equity Toolkit: Standards and Strategies for Advancing Race, Gender and Economic Equity in the Green Economy. Visit http://www.arc.org/greenjobs.

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