A clean energy economy will generate new industries and jobs in manufacturing, construction, science and engineering, and much more. And if we do it right, it will also enhance gender pay equality. Let’s not transfer the gender pay gap of the traditional economy to the new green economy.
Green jobs today are ripe for pay equity
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics now boasts a new jobs category, Green Goods and Services, which details that our nation currently has 3.1 million green jobs across a wide variety of sectors, including construction, manufacturing, professional services, and science- and research-related fields. According to the bureau, the green jobs category comprises numerous new and traditional job sectors that “provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources” or “in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”
Indeed, says the Brookings Institution, green jobs in the clean energy sector grew at twice the rate of jobs in the general economy during the peak of the recession from 2008–2010. While these new statistics tell a promising story for the growth of the green economy and nation’s job recovery as a whole, the potential for women to participate in this economic growth—both domestically and internationally—still remains unclear.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 pumped $90 billion of direct spending and tax incentives into clean energy technologies. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Labor, of the $500 million in Recovery Act funding, only $5 million was set aside to fund programs that train women for nontraditional jobs. A big opportunity was subsequently lost with the Senate’s failure in 2010 to advance a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that could have included provisions to provide opportunities for low-income workers and fund additional green jobs training for women in nontraditional sectors such as construction and manufacturing.
While the Recovery Act jump-started the process of building a clean energy economy, high unemployment continues to be a challenge as the overall economy recovers, particularly for women. As CAP Senior Economist Heather Boushey explained, in 2010 job growth for men outpaced job growth for women for 10 out of 12 months. Jobs in manufacturing and construction, which account for a large portion of green jobs and that are disproportionately held by men, are on the rise—for men. Women lost 18,000 manufacturing jobs from November 2009 to November 2010, while men gained 126,000 jobs.
Potential benefits of green jobs for women
Despite the current employment disparities and a gender-unbalanced economic recovery, green jobs still hold potential for increasing accessibility and equity for women’s employment. A new publication by the U.S. Department of Labor, “A Woman’s Guide to a Sustainable Career,” emphasizes the diverse range of opportunities for women to participate in the green economy. The guide discusses seven reasons why green jobs are good for women, including the opportunity for women to earn more money, build skills, and gain entry into a growing, global industry with opportunities for innovation entrepreneurship. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis adds that:
Good green jobs help workers and their families. They increase incomes, narrow the wage gap, allow flexibility, and are safe, secure, sustainable, and innovative. They enable people with different backgrounds and skills the opportunity to build career paths and achieve economic self-sufficiency.
As an aggregated industry—or cluster of industries—the green economy is making good on the potential to pay higher wages and offer career paths to workers with diverse skills and education levels. A recent report by the Brookings Institution, “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment,” finds that green jobs pay $7,000 more than the national wage average. Further, the Brookings study finds that roughly half of these jobs are held by workers with a high school diploma or less, and 41 percent of the nation’s green jobs offer medium- to long-term career building and training opportunities.
The socioeconomic characteristics of green jobs—well-paid, upwardly mobile, and available to diverse communities with varying levels of skills and education—have long been the core values of advocates of the green economy. Organizations such as Green for All, the Apollo Alliance, Wider Opportunities for Women, and the Center for American Progress have led the national discussion that job creation is not just a numbers game. Economic development and job creation should also reflect equality and accessibility in order to address longstanding economic disparity and to help build a strong middle class, particularly for working mothers who represent nearly two-thirds of breadwinners or co-breadwinners for all U.S. households.