As I hear public conversations about green jobs programs, I find it puzzling that so little attention has been paid to marketing these programs to trainees, businesses and unions.
Regardless of conservative spin, green jobs are a win-win solution to many social issues. If conservatives want to get tough on crime, reduce drug abuse, improve social cohesion in low-income neighborhoods, and practice the bootstrap approach they advocate, supporting green jobs programs is a logical response. The costs of incarceration and poverty are very high.
Let’s take a look at the source of the stigma green jobs programs face. These programs have, from the start, been framed as a socialist solution to capitalist problems. I find it disturbing that these programs – which, ideally, could support businesses, unions, and low-income populations – are being labeled socialist at all.
There is nothing socialist about green jobs programs. These programs support capitalist production and employment. Their structure is, if anything, economically conservative. They direct resources toward educating potential employees and giving them the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
The only excuse I can see to reduce support for these programs is racial bias. I believe the idea of hiring minority and working-class employees has been used to intimidate many potential allies of green jobs programs.
Businesses stand to gain substantially from green jobs training. In fields where there is a shortage of workers, there is no reason qualified employees shouldn’t step in to fill the gap. This is classic capitalism – supply and demand. There is nothing socialist about this approach.
The only “socialist” part of green jobs training is the fact that some public and private resources are redirected to prepare new employees for work. Currently, college tuitions are skyrocketing in the United States. Expecting lower-to-middle-class young people to fork over a large amount of their future pay to gain job qualifications is not realistic. College dropout rates are related to students’ after-school commitments. I documented the effect of part-time jobs on Latino college students for the PoliMemos project.
The picture that emerges from these facts is far different from the media spin. I see large numbers of people who have the initiative and entrepreneurial potential to succeed and improve their neighborhoods, but who are held back by lack of resources and lack of access to social networks.
Let me make this clear – it is social capital and money that holds green jobs trainees back, not lack of ambition. It surprises me that I haven’t seen any social scientists step up to the plate to challenge this damaging media message.
One can design effective green jobs programs by listening to audiences, including businesses. In the aftermath of the recession, this approach is essential. This is not a luxury. This is a bread-and-butter, capitalist solution to severe social problems.
The only reason I can give for the resistance I see is a lack of awareness that these are ambitious young people who deserve a chance to shine. We may not be able to get them all of the resources their peers can access, but at least we should give them job training.
I saw a rock carving in Gloucester, Massachusetts a while ago which said, “When work stops, values decay.” This is not a radical idea. Although I don’t know about changes in values, I do know unemployment leads to depression and a host of other social ills. What surprises me is that so many people are unable to see that their tax dollars also support prisons and drug treatment programs. These dollars could be sending young people to college.
To the extent that green jobs programs are ineffective, it is because they lack the investment, messaging and coalition building to make their promise a reality. Like Obama’s “hope” slogan, these programs cannot deliver without work.
I’d like to see people put their shoulders to the wheel and make a solid effort to back up the promise of the American dream.
Note: All of the statements here are based on conclusions I reached independently. None of these views reflect the perspectives of any of my employers – past, present or future. I am willing to provide additional information to support any of these statements.