Where Are the Green Jobs?

President Obama has been talking about green jobs for years, but most of the country is still waiting to see them. Here's why, according to his former green-jobs adviser and other advocates.

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What's the Holdup?

There are reasonable concerns about leaping into innovative technologies -- or seizing our "Sputnik moment," as Obama put it in his State of the Union address last week. One worry is that, on the front end, renewable sources will lead to higher energy costs for consumers. Yet when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office crunched the numbers, as it did with 2009's failed energy bill, the cost impact was not overly burdensome, costing the average U.S. household $175 a year, or 48 cents a day.

Jones says that most of the resistance in Congress is due to the oil industry's fear of competition and disturbing the status quo. "Then there is this bizarre, ideological allergy to wind and solar energy on the part of conservatives," he continued. "They just see it as 'hippie energy,' and they don't like it." In reality, these industries would benefit hippies and cowboys alike, since the necessary solar and wind farms would be supported in rural red states.

A more compelling argument for innovation investments may be that it's what the majority of Americans support. In a new USA Today-Gallup poll that asked citizens what they want from Congress this year, the most favorable action, picked by 83 percent of respondents, was an energy bill that provides incentives for using alternative energy sources.

Where It's Working

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, an advocacy group focused on lifting minority communities out of poverty through the green economy, is frank in her assessment of Capitol Hill naysayers. "Here's the reality: We're in the middle of a recession," she told The Root. "The economy hasn't grown in many sectors. The only sector that's growing significantly, in a way that provides family-sustaining wages, is the green economy. If someone has a better idea, I want to understand that. But right now this is the only industry where we're seeing people beginning to go to work."

"The goal is not just to think about who goes to work, but also how to create minority businesses," said Ellis-Lamkins. "Our vision of the economy is one that creates wealth as well as an investment in these industries, and to do that you need both workers and entrepreneurs."

The Green Impact Zone, a program in Kansas City, Mo., is using both local and Recovery Act funds to rehabilitate and weatherize 150 blocks of one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Since it was implemented last summer, the venture has created 93 jobs, including home auditors, meter installers and customer-service representatives. "When people say, 'Greens jobs are not viable,' or 'This is not real,' it makes me wonder, 'Are they just not keeping up with what's happening in the movement?' " Anita Maltbia, director of the project, asked The Root. "Or are they saying that the nation doesn't need to fund engagement in it for this particular segment of our population?"

A Closer Look at the Numbers

The numbers from these individual, neighborhood-based programs -- 90 jobs here, 100 jobs there -- don't sound like much compared with the millions of jobs that have disappeared from the economy since the recession began. But the idea, according to green-job activists, is that if these projects are comprehensively replicated in other communities across the country, it will add up.