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Trained to Fail

Colorlines, News Analysis, Yvonne Liu Posted: Apr 13, 2010

Jason Smith needs a job. For two years, hes been submitting applications and waiting by the phone for a callback. Sometimes, he gets a response, but the ratio of applicants to openings is at historic highs, so he hasnt been hired. That wouldnt make Smith much different from the 15 million Americans who are out of work, except that he was supposed to be among those leading us into a promising 21st century economy.

Last June, Smith graduated as a member of the inaugural class of the Oakland Green Jobs Corps. He and his classmates were hopeful for their futuretheyd get cutting edge jobs and be part of a movement for climate justice. Eight months later, many sit waiting for employment. A 26-year old Black man, Smiths living with his parents, where he moved when he lost his job. Hes among 3.4 million workers who have been unemployed for more than a year.

A year ago, President Obama was among the nations loudest advocates for reversing the Great Recession by building a green economy. Congress included almost $4 billion in the Recovery Act for green job training. This funding is on top of the Department of Labors annual training allotment, which was a combined $7.4 billion in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. Job training programs have sprung into action and workers have jumped at the chance for a new career.

But Washington stopped there. While Obama began this year vowing to focus on jobs, jobs, jobs, most economists agree the jobs bill he signed into law last month is too little, too late. The Senates plan to roll out further job creation efforts appears stalled. They cant even agree to keep unemployment insurance going for all those long-term jobless workers like Smith. So we are facing a jobless recovery, with some estimates predicting that job numbers wont return to pre-recession levels until November 2014. The White House has said it doesnt expect unemployment to drop meaningfully this year.
As a result of this neglect, the experience of Smith and his training classmates is not uncommon. There are no firm numbers on how many newly trained green workers are still jobless. But stories abound of programs that turn out workers with new, promising skillsin solar panel installation and weatherization, in places like Seattle and Chicagoand who nonetheless cant find jobs.

The Oakland Green Jobs Corps was created in October 2008 as a demonstration of how investments in renewable energy can create opportunities to lift people of color out of poverty and onto promising career pathways. When the city won $250 million in a settlement from the states Enron lawsuit, advocates urged the money be used to fund green jobs, specifically a local training program. They argued the money should benefit communities of color, who were hurt the most by the unscrupulous practices of large energy corporations.

The Ella Baker Center surveyed 20 employers and found that many were in the process of expanding their businesses and that the major challenge they faced was finding trained people. In October 2008, about a dozen members of the Green Employer Councila group of employers that helped shape the job training curriculumcommitted to hiring a graduate of the Oakland Green Jobs Corp. But eight months later, when Smith and his colleagues donned green helmets and received diplomas in a graduation ceremony, the employers didnt follow through on their promise. The ongoing recession curbed their business expansion; they were no longer hiring new workers.

Related Articles:

As Economy Rebounds Black Families Assess Collateral Damage

Green Jobs Promise Broken?

Latino Leaders Grade Obama

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