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Green Energy Jobs

Recently, Congress examined federal policy toward energy production. Specifically, lawmakers debated the effectiveness of U.S. tax policy in promoting exploration and advancement of both new and traditional energy sources. While federal legislators deliberate how best to promote effective development of all energy sources, a few state officials will be examining similar questions.

In Ohio, for example, the state legislature will be putting certain energy companies to a test. The wind and solar industries will be asked to demonstrate whether they are able to create jobs that will be available to all segments of the American population, not just those who are highly educated, highly skilled, or advantageously connected.

The Ohio legislature’s lower house set both employment targets and contracting targets aimed at segments where the unemployment is highest and where business development is the lowest. House Bill 464 calls for a minority hiring target of 5% and a minority contracting target of 10% for the development, construction and operation of wind and solar projects in the state. Its companion legislation, Senate Bill 232, does not yet include similar language.

This debate’s significance stems, in part, from the President’s long expressed expectation that development and growth of the wind industry, the overall renewable energy industry, and the general development of a green economy will provide good paying jobs for Americans. Yet, our leaders have yet to seriously address whether that job growth will benefit African Americans and Latinos.

Reality is that these initiatives are not producing wealth or jobs for minority communities to the same degree that traditional energy sources have in the past.

Look again at the Buckeye State. If HB 464’s minority hiring and contracting target provisions endure further negotiations between the upper and lower houses, it will be the first time that any state has officially recognized that the wind industry is nearly devoid of any minority participation. Indeed, minority hiring and minority contracting that has resulted from wind energy’s remarkable growth across the country – in California, Montana, Colorado, Texas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New York, Kansas, Minnesota, North and South Dakota – is very difficult to quantify with any degree of confidence. If available anecdotal information represents even a fraction of the larger picture, its minority employment is virtually non-existent.

The absence of minority participation in the wind industry may be no one’s fault, merely an extension of the historical and geographical realities that exist in this nation. It may well be that the wind blows best where the minority populations are the smallest, or in the parts of states where minority persons neither reside nor own property. In the case of Montana, Iowa, Colorado, and Kansas, this is possible. But in Texas, New York, Pennsylvania – it’s highly unlikely such geographic disparity explains the problem.

Focusing once again on Ohio, the minority population is nearly 17%. And the unemployment rate in the state’s minority communities is predicted to top 20% by the third quarter of this year. Given these facts, the 5% minority hiring target of HB 464 would appear to be a rather modest expectation. A minority hiring target set at less than one third of the minority population level in a state where the minority unemployment rate is nearly twice the overall national rate should be quite easy to achieve. In fact, one would expect it to occur naturally based on simple mathematics.

Yet, if just 5% of the wind industry workforce in Ohio were to come from minority communities, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans or Native Americans, the state’s minority employment in this industry would be several times larger than in any other state in these United States. That reality tells me that the status quo is failing our President’s test.

Let’s hope that legislators in the U.S. Congress and in states where similar disparities exist begin implementing this test as well. “Green” jobs will be most helpful if they are consistent with our national ideals of fairness and equality of opportunity. “Green” jobs will not be helpful if they further exacerbate our already intractable problems of racial and ethnic economic disparity.

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