Creating Opportunity for Women in the Green Economy
As the unemployment rate has continued to rise, the emerging green sector holds out potential opportunity for millions of U.S. residents. There is an unprecedented opportunity to educate and train a diverse set of workers, including women, to benefit from the developing green economy.
Addressing Unemployment in the U.S.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy lost 6.7 million jobs between December 2007, when the recession began, and July 2009. While the current economic recession has resulted in the loss of construction and manufacturing jobs—increasing the unemployment rate among men—it has also deeply affected women. The unemployment rate for single women head of households was 11.6 percent in September 2009—higher than the overall unemployment rate of 11 percent for men and substantially higher than the unemployment rate for married men (7.4 percent).
If the nation is to address its substantial unemployment and economic problems, it is critical to link job growth opportunities to those who need the jobs most.
The Benefits of a Green Job Sector
Creating green jobs—while certainly inadequate to fill the nation’s entire employment gap—can help large numbers of workers obtain well-paying jobs with benefits. Definitions of what constitutes a “green job” are still evolving.
Similar labor, managerial and technical occupations can be found in both green and non-green industries. While the data do not yet allow us to look specifically at occupations in green industry versus non-green industry, we do know that green sector jobs tend to be higher paying. For example, the Council of Economic Advisors found that industrial machinery mechanics who work in power generation, an emerging green sector, earn about $28 per hour. By comparison, mechanics with similar jobs, but who do not work in the power generating field, earn about $6 less per hour, suggesting a sizeable wage premium associated with some green jobs.
Many of these jobs, however, tend to be concentrated in parts of the economy with historically limited female representation. Women have very limited representation in occupations that predominate in the green jobs sector. While there is greater representation of women in higher-skilled non-traditional jobs, such as engineering and management, the numbers are still woefully low.
Despite sporadic efforts at the federal, state and local levels to create opportunities for women in these fields, the majority continue to gravitate to occupations with low-wages, limited benefits, and few advancement opportunities. The median hourly wage for roofers – 99 percent of whom are men – is $16.17, enough to cover the basic needs of a small family. Compare this to the $11.48 median hourly wage of preschool teachers, 98 percent of whom are women.
At this wage, a preschool teacher would have to work in excess of 25 hours more per week to support a similar living standard.15 Women would benefit significantly from gaining access to green jobs that pay higher wages. To shift the current paradigm of women underrepresented in most green job occupations, however, will require direct policy and program action.
Funding for Women and Green Jobs
Substantial new opportunities are being created in the private and public sector to spur green job development. Funding available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) that could support programs aimed at bringing more women into green occupations. Additionally, non-ARRA sources include $3 billion in Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds that could prioritize training and supporting women in green job careers and competitive grants offered through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s On the Job Supportive Services Program.
The purpose of these grants is to increase the number of women and minorities in transportation jobs, including trains, light rail and other green transportation. The grants cover recruitment, skills training, job placement, child care, outreach, transportation to work sites, pre-employment assessment, mediation and counseling. ARRA and non-ARRA funding can help expand women-focused green job training, recruitment and placement, and be combined and leveraged with the substantial resources at the state and local level, including philanthropic and other private dollars.
If women are to gain a significant foothold in the green sector, federal funding will need to prioritize programs that both train women for these positions and help them make the challenging transition into male-dominated occupations. This means not only assisting low-income women in developing the required skills, but ensuring that issues such as child care needs are factored into any effort to recruit and retain women.