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California Jobs Summit Thinks Green

New America Media, News Report, Seth Sandronsky Posted: Dec 04, 2009

SACRAMENTO -- The California economy is hurting. The state jobless rate was 12.5 percent in October, a record high since World War II. The states job crisis was the driving force of an economic recovery summit held in Sacramento on Dec. 2 on the eve of President Obamas jobs summit at the White House.

The California Labor Federation, which represents 2.1 million workers in 1,200 unions statewide, sponsored the Sacramento summit, the first event of its kind according to spokesman Steve Smith. National and state experts spoke out for more jobs and social services, a better infrastructure and improved workers skills.

Nearly 23 percent of California workers are either out of work, under-employed (reluctantly part-time) or so discouraged they have stopped looking for work, according to Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director for the National Employment Law Project.

Meanwhile, unemployment is hitting ethnic and racial minorities hardest. One of every three Californians is black or Latino, according to the 2000 Census, yet they are disproportionately affected by the worsening job market. The jobless rate was 14.6 percent for blacks and 14.1 percent for Latinos, compared to only 10.7 percent for whites this October, the state Employment Development Department said. Between October 2008 and October 2009, the Latino jobless rate rose 25 percent higher than that of blacks and whites in California.

While the employment losses of this recession have been widespread across most California industries, losses have been particularly severe in the construction industry, said Paul Wessen, an economist with the EDD. Agriculture is the only California industry sector that has a higher share of Latinos in its work force than construction.

Nathan Newman, head of the Progressive States Network, noted the decline of high-paying union jobs for minority workers in manufacturing. This trend preceded the housing crash, he said.

Newmans policy proposals for the California economy include public investment to benefit the infrastructure, work force and business. He called for any tax dollars allocated to private industry to come with strings attached. That would mean public transparency and accountability for businesses to create good, long-lasting jobs for communities where employment is most needed.

Asked how to address the racial and ethnic gap in the states job market, one speaker noted the importance of targeted hiring for disadvantaged and low-income communities.

We need to be sure that a percentage of new jobs created go to the hardest hit and those who have been prevented from accessing employment, said Elena Foshay, a researcher for the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, community, environmental and labor groups focused on green jobs and clean energy.

An ordinance to make Los Angeles buildings greener, for example, will begin with properties located in low-income communities. The ordinance, which aims to retrofit city-owned properties to reduce pollutants and energy use, was passed in April by the Los Angeles City Council. Written into the city policy, Foshay said, is a provision to hire local residents. A city union will also participate, providing apprenticeships, and community colleges will provide training for the new hires, she said.

UC Berkeley Professor Harley Shaiken, who gave the keynote speech at the summit, stressed the urgent need to develop an economic vision that would establish a road map for the future. For the present, Shaiken called for more national public investments in jobs with state involvement. This is a way to put people to work right here and right now, he said.

Shaiken proposed a Renewable Energy Progress Administration. Its workers would mount solar roofs on government and school buildings nationwide, and install solar material to generate power for the electrical grid on unused land on the sides and median strips along the interstate highway. The latter is policy in Germany today, he said.

A Renewable Energy Progress Administration would look a little like the Works Progress Administration that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched during the 1930s Great Depression. The WPA created 12 million paying jobs for unemployed urban and rural Americans. They built tens of thousands of bridges, parks and roads across the United States that are still in use today.

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