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.

Getty Images

“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.

They also admit that the green economy can take us only so far.

“We’ve been saying all along that if the country did everything as green as possible, revamped the way that we do a lot of our production and consumption, and had a response from Congress, you could produce 3 million jobs, maybe 4 million,” said Jones. While those were huge numbers in 2007, the stat is far less impactful given the economic downturn.

“Now people are going, ‘All these people don’t have jobs. Where are all the green jobs?’ ” he continued. “Well, we never promised 12 million green jobs, which is what you’d need just to get us back to where we were in 2007. And aside from the initial stimulus package, we’ve had no congressional action. The fact that we’re doing as well as we are, and can still point to successes and numbers, I think shows the viability of the idea.”

What Happens Next

With Republicans now controlling the House, there’s no longer talk of a big, in-one-fell-swoop clean-energy bill. Democrats, however, will take up the issue in smaller, individual packages on weatherization funding, energy standards and energy efficiency. President Obama is following up on his State of the Union speech — in which he said that he wants 80 percent of America’s electricity coming from clean-energy sources by 2035 — by pushing Congress to order utility companies to start using renewable energy.

“If that’s the national goal, then you can’t wait until 2032 to start. You’ve got to start now,” said Jones, who, despite the delays from Congress, is hopeful that it will act. “If we did the energy policy the way the president’s been talking about, it would result in a massive jobs program for everybody. And African Americans are positioned to benefit as much as anybody else.”

Cynthia Gordy is The Root‘s Washington reporter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.