By TRUDY GOLDBERG
Addressing the jobs and environmental crises are two parts of a common struggle to create an equitable and sustainable economy. A federal jobs guarantee copes with both.
The Environmental Crisis
Devastating environmental changes—largely resulting from the burning of fossil fuels—occur everywhere on earth.
Water grows scarcer in dry regions; torrential rains increase in wet regions; heat waves are more common and severe; hurricanes are more frequent and more deadly; wildfires worsen; forests are dying, and melting ice caps portend coastal flooding, threatening human habitation. Communities of color are hit harder by climate change. Hotter climates reduce food supplies, causing hunger and social conflict, particularly in poorer countries. The warming earth is already threatening millions worldwide. Scientists warn that without significant fossil fuel reduction, the earth will be unlivable.
The recently released report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is “a code-red for humanity.” “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,” according to one climate scientist. The IPCC report confirms that the climate crisis is here and is going to get worse.
The Jobs Crisis
High unemployment is a chronic problem, higher when the economy crashes, but always with us. The fear of more unemployment hinders efforts to solve the environmental crisis.
The Job Picture, July 2021:
- 19.7 million people are either officially unemployed, jobless but not looking for work (discouraged, unable to obtain child care or transportation, etc.), or forced to work part-time.
- 16.7 million more work year-round, full-time for less than the 4-person poverty line
- 36.4 million people are unemployed, underemployed, or working poor
Black workers usually have nearly twice the unemployment rate of white workers. Yet, unemployment is not just a minority issue. Officially unemployed whites are nearly 40% higher than the combined number of officially unemployed black and Latinx workers. The quality of work has greatly deteriorated and become more precarious for most workers. Too many people of all races and ethnicities face a future without decent, living-wage work.
One of the challenges of solving the environmental crisis is to address the fear of job loss that public policy proposals may prompt.
Creating Green Jobs for All
In the 1930s, the Roosevelt Administration showed we could put millions to work doing useful jobs that made a lasting contribution to our country—roads, bridges, schools, libraries, housing, parks and environmental conservation, arts, culture, and much more—and literally change the face of this nation.
Creating green jobs would address the devastating environmental and unemployment crises.
What Are Green Jobs?
- retrofitting or making houses, office buildings, schools, and factories more energy efficient
- manufacturing and installing solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal and other forms of renewable energy, along with employing researchers to develop more efficient alternatives to fossil fuels
- redirecting agribusiness subsidies to local, environmentally sustainable farming
- building a railroad system that provides affordable, fuel-efficient public transportation
- making our infrastructure more efficient by repairing roads, bridges, and water systems
- adding millions of needed teachers, child care, and health care workers to our workforce
- producing easily recyclable and repairable goods and reducing planned obsolescence
- providing education about green technologies and increasing awareness of climate change
More leisure-like paid vacations for all workers would reduce environmental and unemployment crises and economic inequality.
A Job Guarantee, Green Jobs, and a Sustainable Environment
For the founders of the National Jobs for All Network,* environmental sustainability was a key component of their proposal to guarantee living-wage jobs for all Americans. And it remains a key component of our goals.
In the opening paragraph of “Jobs for All,” a book published in 1994 that served as a manifesto for the new organization, the authors wrote that their plan is “based on the philosophy that work and production, exchange and distribution should be designed in ways that are conducive to the full employment of the innate potential of all people and the sustainability of the ecosystem.” Significantly, one of the chapters in “Jobs for All” is “Environmental Preservation and Sustainability.”
Taking issue with zero-growth environmentalists, the Jobs for All environmentalists held that sustainability—the ability of the earth’s systems to regenerate themselves for the use of future generations—is compatible with economic growth. Sustainability is a way of avoiding both stagnation and environmental destruction. Compared to growth that eats up non-renewable resources and causes the destruction of critical ecosystems, sustainable growth means growth in products and services that do not pollute, that reduce levels of degradation, and help to regenerate the ecosystem.
Examples of sustainable growth are:
- converting military production to highly efficient, non-polluting mass transit systems
- converting high tech, invasive health care to preventive health care and education for a more healthful life
- educating people to move from a high beef diet to a largely vegetarian diet
- “greening” inner cities to provide more space for parks and gardens
- expanding human services that improve the quality of life such as child care and elder care
- enhancing the lives of people through the expansion of the visual, written, and dramatic arts and
- increasing the efficiency of nonrenewable fuels, and turning to renewable biological and solar energy sources
Jobs related to nonrenewable energy such as oil and coal would be lost in converting to a sustainable economy. But government job creation to achieve both sustainability and a job guarantee could make up for these losses. Nonetheless, the shifts in power relationships required to combat the climate change crisis and develop a green economy are politically challenging and require the widest possible mobilization of the forces for economic and environmental justice. Needed as well are careful study and planning of the necessary transitions to a sustainable economy.
That a job guarantee would remove a major barrier to reversing climate change was the theme of NJFAN’S participation in The People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014. The theme of a “GREEN JOBS FOR ALL” leaflet that we passed out has been updated and used for subsequent events. Now, more than ever, we must push harder for a GUARANTEE OF GREEN JOBS that attacks both the climate and job crises.
Trudy Goldberg is the chair of the National Jobs for All Network
*The name of NJFAN was originally National Jobs for All Coalition but was changed to reflect our networking effort—of which the Jobs for All Newsletter is a prime example.
2 thoughts on “Green Jobs for All: Coping with Two Crises”
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities published a summary of the U.S. Census survey called the Household Pulse survey for July, 2020, and to quote CBPP: “Some 63 million adults — 27 percent of all adults in the country — reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to cover usual expenses in the past seven days, according to data collected June 23–July 5.” (see Tracking the Covid-19 Recovery) There are also about 130 million households, and if these 63 million adults surveyed were from separate and distinct households, then about 48% of U.S. households would be reporting hardship. The United Way published an update of their ALICE study of hardship in December, 2020, “On Uneven Ground” and stated that when the data for all of 2020 arrives it’s probable that their ALICE hardship threshold will reach half of U.S. households (page 19). In 2019 they reported 42% of U.S. households were unable to afford all seven expenses: food, housing, utilities, healthcare, phone, transportation, childcare. The total national income for 2020 was projected to be $16.679 trillion, which is an average of $128,000 per household, states the Joint Committee on Taxation, Overview, page 42. There is abundant income and super-abundant wealth in the nation. Total household net worth is reported by the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds report, page 2, and as of June, 2020 it is over $136 trillion (about 128% higher than it was in January 2009 when it was $60 trillion, adjusting for inflation). This averages to over $1 million in private savings per household. We have the resources, but political will is lacking.
You rightly point out that unemployment is not our only problem. Associated with it is the low wages affecting many, including full-time, year-round workers. Wages for decades have not kept up with productivity. One result has been the shift of income to profits, resulting in greater inequality.