A Bastion of Black Jobs Turns To Green
Can American manufacturing's efforts to retool put a dent in our unemployment rate?
It's no surprise to anyone that the two-year-old recession has wreaked havoc on the black community. African Americans already had a higher jobless rate than Americans overall, and the downturn only deepened long-term trends in unemployment, with Black men hit especially hard.
Manufacturing, which has played a key role in building the black middle class since World War II, took an especially severe blow. The sector had already been losing jobs for years as automation allowed more productivity with fewer workers. The jobs remaining were among the first to go in this recession -- just over 2 million factory jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Over a two-year period starting in November 2007, sixteen percent of the manufacturing jobs lost belonged to blacks, according to the Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute. By comparison, blacks make up 11 percent of the American labor force.
Some manufacturers are turning to the burgeoning economy around clean and renewable energy in order to stay in business. The so-called "green" push, partly funded through the federal stimulus monies, could create thousands of manufacturing jobs, according to California-based advocacy group Apollo Alliance. It could also help propel a slow turnaround that can provide opportunities in distressed communities.
"There's a new economy that's going to be built. It's already its happening in India, China, and the only question is do we make sure it happens in Detroit, Cleveland, and Richmond also," says Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, chief executive officer of Green For All in Oakland, CA. "We believe it's critical that we do and we think it's a question of how we can participate and be successful."
To succeed we must ensure that minorities have access to the brave new world the green economy is creating in manufacturing, said Ellis-Lamkins. As an example of the opportunities being created, California-based Twin Creeks is building its new solar panel factory in the northern Mississippi of Senatobia, creating 512 jobs in two phases over the next five years, she says.