By Molly Bashay and Cameron Johnson
While the country is undoubtedly going through a climate crisis, it is also experiencing a job and economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. The current shortage of jobs of 5.4 million means that millions of families are still economically insecure as the already meager federal aid runs out. After the most devastating economic year since the Great Depression, workers and families are still a long way from pre-pandemic normalcy. Unfortunately, this pre-pandemic norm included 50 million workers earning poverty wages. In addition, marginalized communities have long faced inequalities in attitudes, wages and unemployment. Congress must invest in workers and families who prioritize quality education and employment opportunities that lead to family economic security. Congress must promote a government-subsidized employment program that focuses on the essential work that is now available in the green economy as an effective solution to helping more people achieve economic stability while reducing the damage caused by climate change.
More than 9 in 10 Americans (93 percent) are in favor of a national initiative that creates paid work and education opportunities as part of recovery efforts. This political solution – a federal investment in the civil service or subsidized employment – is the only measure that has been shown to enable large numbers of unemployed people to work fast and put their incomes in the pockets of those who work most urgent need.
In addition to ongoing economic hardship, the climate crisis is a real, ongoing and immediate threat. Communities that have been marginalized tend to have the worst consequences of hard fossil fuel extraction and its negative impact on the environment. As a result, they suffer from poor health outcomes and are largely excluded from any economic benefits derived from fossil fuel consumption. Ultimately, these communities are physically and financially struggling with extreme weather events due to a mixture of community disinvestment, aid mismanagement and systemic racism.
Still, advocates and key policy makers 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 implement the proposals of the US employment plan to strengthen essential services such as the power grid, food systems, urban infrastructure and community hospitals, among others in the face of persistent extreme weather events.
One of the strongest policy ideas in the American Jobs Plan is the Civilian Climate Corps. This pioneering initiative combines the opportunity for green investments with a government-sponsored employment plan. It would encourage people to work in areas such as conserving public resources, making our communities resilient to extreme weather events, and promoting climate justice. At the same time, these jobs must offer living wages, social benefits and important supports such as paid vacation and predictable working hours in order to bring people into economic security. That public service would ultimately benefit all of us, and we have immediate climate investments ready to be integrated into a subsidized employment program.
Congress can improve existing federal resilience and development bloc grant programs. This will catalyze investments that strengthen the infrastructure and essential services hardest hit by climate-related disasters in marginalized communities. In addition, households and businesses are protected against future weather threats by investing in weathering and prevention. These investments can provide these communities with clean energy infrastructure and employment opportunities where they have been lacking, an important step in overcoming centuries of environmental racism.
Investing in clean energy works well with investing in empowering people in these communities economically. The administration must achieve its legislative goal of developing both decarbonisation initiatives in affected communities and the retrofitting of commercial, residential and industrial buildings in order to be less CO2-intensive as well as more energy-efficient and climate-resistant. Coupled with community engagement planning, this investment can benefit the health, financial well-being, and safety of marginalized communities where these facilities and buildings tend to proliferate. These programs can be easily customized and scaled to the needs of the community and employ skilled craftsmen who earn livable wages as plumbers, electricians, HVAC and construction workers.
By creating spaces that rely on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels – and local employment for those green jobs – a green public service program would improve the health and financial well-being of the most marginalized communities.
A national subsidized employment program geared towards equal opportunities can support an inclusive COVID-19 economic recovery; increase job quality; expand access to jobs in the green economy; and lay the foundations for a more just, just and prosperous economy. A national public sector employment program that also includes green economy-related components is the right solution to today’s economic and climate crisis.