February 26th, 2009
11:44 PM ET

A green American dream for working families

Chris Chafe
Executive Director, Change to Win

Van Jones
Founder and President, Green For All

This Friday, Vice President Joe Biden will hold the first meeting of his new White House Task Force for Middle Class Working Families. The theme? "Green jobs as a pathway to a strong middle class."

This is a huge step forward for the country, for the green jobs movement, and for working families. The U.S. economy once abounded with opportunities for careers that would support a family, provide health care, put kids through college, even allow people to take a hard-earned vacation with their loved ones. Those opportunities, and the American Dream that propelled generations to new progress, remain too far out of reach for too many Americans. The best place to recreate them is in the growing green jobs sector.

Green jobs are America's best investment opportunity for the public and private sector. By investing wisely and creating the right policies, we can create new wealth while fighting poverty and pollution at the same time. We are already seeing this happening across the country. Newark, NJ is pioneering a public-private partnership to create union jobs making homes more energy-efficient — and making sure residents who most need the work have access to those jobs. Community colleges and training institutions — like the East Los Angeles Skills Center — are teaching the next generation of green technicians. State subsidies have convinced Gamesa to locate its new factory for constructing wind turbine blades in Pennsylvania; the wind-energy giant expects to create up to 1,000 new, good, green jobs in the Keystone State.

The potential of the emerging green economy is enormous. What we need is smart, supportive federal investment to help that potential become a reality for all Americans. And President Obama's administration gets it. That's the biggest signal we should take from the fact that Vice President Biden is focusing the first meeting of his Middle Class Task Force on green jobs.

But there's another signal we should absolutely NOT take from the meeting. We should not take it as a signal that we have arrived, that our message has gotten through, that the hard part is over. No, this meeting is a sign that we are finally beginning.

The administration sees the promise of green jobs because a vibrant, beautiful movement has been singing about that promise at the top of its voice. That movement includes labor, students, business leaders, social justice activists, environmentalists, intellectuals and more. It wants an inclusive green economy, strong enough to solve the ecological crisis and lift millions of people out of poverty.

Creating a pathway to a green American Dream requires a new practice of partnership between government, entrepreneurs, investors, environmentalists, junior colleges and community organizations, and unions. These emerging green sectors offer our first chance in more than a generation to build a new economic model founded on sustainable development and equity for all. Smart policies can drive public and private investment into sectors like weatherization and take those new markets to scale. Community and neighborhood residents can be recruited by local organizations and welcomed into union and community college training programs, so that when they emerge they have a real job market to enter, creating value in their own homes and communities while being paid a living wage in the private or public sector. That is how we’ll save our planet and rebuild our middle class.

We need that partnership and that movement now more than ever. Working families need it. The planet needs it. And President Obama needs it. A strong, popular, independent movement for quality green jobs is the only thing that will shine a light for the administration and show it the path it is looking for — and the pitfalls it must avoid. We’ve traveled that path to end slavery and segregation, to create voting rights for all, to build a middle class from the industrial sweatshop, and we’re still walking together to build the right to unionize and create equal pay for all.

President Obama and the country need us to show the way to a green future. We must not let them down.

Filed under: Economy • Job Market • Joe Biden • President Barack Obama
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Sandy

    I am so mad....all of the people who were so cool in their Giant SUVs, Hummers, driving alone mind you are all going green? No they simply can't afford them anymore. Advertisers are saying stuff like its so uncool to go to clubs, drive new cars, spend like theres no tomorrow. Well guess what? Those of us in the true middle class have know this all along! We will be able to get through the recession because we have always lived this way! No extravagant spending, just work. So join the club but don't pretend all of a sudden that again you are the better people! You just don't have the means! And kudos to those of us who are the genuine article. Who have stayed home with their kids playing board games, gone to the park with their children, found free but wonderful activities that not only save the planet but our budgets. We don't have to be told how to make it.

    February 27, 2009 at 10:32 am |
  2. karen

    i live in a small town in arizona, we have wind 200 days a year and sun 360 days a year. but we have to buy electricity from a coop that buys coal power? if i get solar power for my home it will cost me 10,000 dollars cause i can only have a contractor install all of my panels, even though the only thing that should require a contractor is the electrical hook up? they make it impossible to go green. karen

    February 26, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  3. stuckathomedad

    I am currently unemployed and have been looking for "Green Jobs" online in the Colorado area. The industry in this area is looking for individuals with experience only. Currently, there are no approved training programs for alternative energy jobs available for the unemployed in Colorado and if one starts taking classes, the unemployment will be benefits will be cut off. I do not enjoy collecting unemployment benefits, but it is helping. I hope this green future works, but I do not think it will help the individuals currently unemployed.

    February 26, 2009 at 9:31 pm |
  4. Joe G. (Illinois)

    People in China are just doing fine.. Sure that we need a new spawn of gismos necessary to support energy conservation.. But just like cars.. We can’t build them..! That’s the problem.. Look at it this way.. We all know that we got them astronauts doing ridiculous things in space… Yet you mean to tell me that they have already all fancy accessories they need?! Why aren't we building more of them?

    February 26, 2009 at 9:28 pm |
  5. Clarence

    Is this green model based on a cleaner enviornment and world... or a more productive economy? Green doesn't always refer to who makes more money....

    February 26, 2009 at 9:17 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    My family will be glad to help with turning America green – we are so glad to see that government is finally paying attention and not relegating the environment to the bottom of the heap where it probably won't get attention. With Obama making it one of the main stays of his economic recovery and stabilization plan this not only bodes well for those of us who need a job but for our planet as a whole – if the US doesn't get to work on the issues of climate change now our problems down the road could be catastrophic.

    February 26, 2009 at 8:45 pm |
  7. Franky

    Green jobs...God's unforgiven sin, LOL!!!

    February 26, 2009 at 8:12 pm |