The Green Economy Needs Subsidized Jobs

By Molly Bashay and Cameron Johnson

While the country is undoubtedly enduring a climate crisis, it is also experiencing a jobs and economic crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic. The current 5.4 million jobs shortfall means millions of families are still economically insecure as already-meager federal aid comes to an end. After the most economically devastating year since the Great Depression, workers and families are still far from a pre-pandemic normal. Unfortunately, that pre-pandemic normal included 50 million workers earning poverty wages. Moreover, communities that have been marginalized have long faced inequities in hiring, wages, and unemployment. Congress must make investments in workers and families that prioritize quality training and employment opportunities that lead to families’ economic security. Congress must advance a federal subsidized jobs program, focused on essential work available now in the green economy, as an effective solution to help more people gain economic stability while reducing the harm of climate change.

More than 9 in 10 Americans (93 percent) favor a national initiative that creates paid work and job training opportunities as part of recovery efforts. This policy solution—a federal investment in public service, or subsidized employment—is the only workforce intervention proven to put large numbers of unemployed people to work rapidly and put income in the pockets of those who need it most.

Alongside continued economic hardship, the climate crisis is a real, persistent, and imminent threat. Communities that have been marginalized tend to experience the worst consequences of harsh fossil fuel extraction and its negative effect on the environment. As a result, they suffer poor health outcomes and are largely excluded from any economic benefits created by fossil fuels consumption. Ultimately, these communities struggle bodily and financially from extreme weather events due to a mix of community disinvestment, relief aid mismanagement, and systemic racism.

Nevertheless, advocates and key policymakers are more than ready to take action. Proactive investments in green jobs and climate infrastructure, like many outlined in the Build Back Better Plan, are necessary to address current and future environmental concerns. Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration must follow through on the proposals within the American Jobs Plan to bolster essential services like the electric grid, food systems, urban infrastructure, and community hospitals, among others, in the face of continuing extreme weather events.

One of the strongest policy ideas in the American Jobs Plan is the Civilian Climate Corps. This landmark initiative combines the opportunity of green investments with a federal subsidized jobs plan. It would put people to work in areas such as conserving public resources, advancing our communities’ resilience to extreme weather events, and furthering climate justice. At the same time, to help move people into economic security, these jobs must provide living wages, benefits, and critical supports such as paid leave and predictable work schedules. This public service would ultimately benefit us all, and we have immediate climate investments primed to integrate into a subsidized employment program.

Congress can enhance existing federal community resilience and development block grant programs. This will catalyze investments that bolster the infrastructure and essential services most vulnerable to climate-driven disasters in communities that are marginalized. Additionally, investing in weatherization and prevention insures homes and businesses against future weather threats. These investments can bring clean energy infrastructure and job opportunities to these communities where it has been lacking, a key step to redressing centuries of environmental racism.

Investing in cleaner energy pairs well with investing in the economic empowerment of people in these communities. The administration must deliver legislatively on its goal to develop both decarbonization initiatives in affected communities and the retrofitting of commercial, residential, and industrial buildings to be less carbon-intensive, as well as more energy efficient and climate resilient. Coupled with community-engagement planning, this investment can benefit the health, financial wellbeing, and security of the marginalized communities where these facilities and buildings tend to proliferate. These programs can be easily tailored and scaled to fit community needs and employ skilled tradespeople earning livable wages as plumbers, electricians, and HVAC and construction workers.

By creating spaces that rely on renewable energies rather than fossil fuels–and hiring locally for these green jobs–a green public service program would improve the health and financial wellbeing of communities that have been most marginalized.

An equity-centered national subsidized employment program can support an inclusive COVID-19 economic recovery; increase job quality; expand access to green economy jobs; and lay the groundwork for a more fair, just, and prosperous economy. A national public service employment program, including components tied to the green economy, is the right solution for today’s economic and climate crises.