[The Job Stimulus Package] is Just Not That into You

You’ve probably heard a lot about this whole “green jobs” thing, where global warming and our economic Armageddon is supposed to find salvation in a new green workforce. Weaning the U.S. off of foreign oil and dirty coal by powering the country with wind and solar renewable energy will not only curb carbon emissions, experts argue, but also provide jobs galore for the masses. Obama’s stimulus package is supposed to be nose candy for the economy – an $800 billion coke line of infrastructure jobs to get America out of its pathetic, apoplectic state and back to partyin’.
Thing is, after this money gets approved by Congress, there’ll be a whole lot of partyin’, but poor black and Latino folk may be stuck at the door looking in, as usual. Getting $800 billion authorized is nothing to the federal government. That’s like Uncle Sam’s per diem. We’re trillions in the hole and still writing checks like it’s nothing. How it’s distributed is a whole other story. And that, I’m afraid, is where coluh’ed people might be rappin’ about being hoodwinked and bamboozled again.

This bailout money will go to every sector of society: labor, health, education, energy. Most or all of these jobs are eventually supposed to be “green,” meaning promoting sustainability, energy efficiency, carbon-safe and all that stuff Brad Pitt talks about when you actually pay attention to what he’s saying. For labor it means all those guys in union jobs in the coal mines and in construction will switch from blue collar to “green collar”, building wind turbines and photovoltaic (solar) manufacturing. The health jobs will largely have to do with digitizing paper medical records and retrofitting hospitals. In education, it’s training more teachers in science and math. For energy, the biggest task is reformatting the nation’s electric grid, which currently looks like those Fendi Crayola bags with all kind of crazy patchwork and no rhyme or reason to the design.

In every one of those cases though, you won’t find many opportunities for the 14% of Black people or the 9% of Latinos who are already out of a job – far higher percentage than any other race – to get in on this. Let’s face it, if you’re black or brown, these green jobs … they’re just not that into you.

The same composition that makes up the unions – that composition being white – will get the green collar jobs. You might get some black and brown in the health and education sectors, but for the most part they’ll remain as white as a nurse’s uniforms. The kind of technology that will bring solar panels and wind turbines is far down the line, for mass scale, and it will be mostly skilled labor who does that anyway. No wind turbines are going up in the middle of the hood. And people in the hood might get some solar panels, but if that equipment breaks – cause some cops shoot ’em out, or Hurricane Katrina’s cousin wipes them out – poor people don’t have money to fix and replace them.

Still the largest issue is that 3.6 million people have lost jobs since the recession began, and it’s not gonna get better. Economists believe that that number will rise easily to 5 million if not more by summer. So if the stimulus program is only providing 5 million jobs, guess what? Those jobs are just gonna go to those who lost jobs in the last year. For those of us who’ve been unemployed since well before the recession, well, we’ll still be unemployed. The Senate just stripped billions out of the stimulus package that was supposed to go to unemployment and food stamp benefits, not to mention the aid for women’s reproductive health services that were stripped out from the gate by obstructionist Republicans.

Green jobs advocates say that they’ll have jobs for ex-felons, but there’s nothing regulated or legislated that says a solar panel company has to act with anymore goodwill than a coal company already does.

There are groups who currently do supply green jobs in the hood and have been since the 80s: Elizabeth Yeampierre’s UPROSE, Peggy Shepard’s WEACT, Majora Carter’s Sustainable South Bronx, Omar Freilla’s Green Worker Cooperative to name a few. In a just America, that stimulus money would go straight to them to scale up. But this is not a just America … it’s just America.

I talked with Majora Carter, an advocate and economic consultant from the South Bronx in New York City, about this a few weeks ago and she said that what’s passing for a green job in many people’s minds is dealing only with the solar panel stuff. But, she said, there’s mad work people can do right in their neighborhoods – in the Bronx, in Brooklyn – planting trees, organic vegetable gardens, horticulture, green-spacing. It sounds soft, but if someone is willing to pay you $15 to $20 an hour to plant some apples, g’damnit you gonna plant some apples.

But I also talked to Kevin Doyle, of Green Economy, and he said flat out: “It’s going to be an uphill battle to get people who have had barriers to employment to suddenly get access to work, and this new moment only makes it nominally better. If we’re not savvy, all of those new jobs, green or not, will go to incumbent workers” – meaning people who already have jobs, or those just recently laid off.

You ever be in the strip club when somebody makes it rain? Where does the money fall? On the strippers – the workers who are already paid to be in the spot, while cats in the audience just watch the money drop like it’s part of the show. When Obama drop that $800 billion, who’s it gonna fall on, and where are you gonna be?

Still confused about the stimulus package? Here’s a batch of cliff notes, if you will:

Stimulus bill clears hurdle

-Be Mock’d

Be Mock’d is one of PLR’s featured contributors on the environment, politics and how the hood gets mocked by both. Read the rest of his opinions here.

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