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Robert Reich: The Stimulus

January 9, 2009

The stimulus plan will create jobs repairing and upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, levees, water and sewage system, public-transit systems, electricity grid, and schools. And it will kick-start alternative, non-fossil based sources of energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and so on); new health-care information systems; and universal broadband Internet access.

It’s a two-fer: lots of new jobs, and investments in the nation’s future productivity.

But if there aren’t enough skilled professionals to do the jobs involving new technologies, the stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most — women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed — will be shut out.

What to do? There’s no easy solution to either dilemma. But there’s no reason to think about “green jobs” as simply high-tech. Many low-income and low-skilled workers — women as well as men — could be put directly to work providing homes and businesses with more efficient and renewable heating, lighting, cooling, and refrigeration systems; installing solar panels and efficient photovoltaic systems; rehabilitating and renovating old properties, and improving recycling systems. “Green Jobs Corps” teams could be trained to evaluate and advise homeowners and businesses on these and other means of conserving energy.

People can be trained relatively quickly for these sorts of jobs, as well as many infrastructure jobs generated by the stimulus — installing new pipes for water and sewage systems, repairing and upgrading equipment, basic construction — but contractors have to be nudged both to provide the training and to do the hiring.

I’d suggest that all contracts entered into with stimulus funds require contractors to provide at least 20 percent of jobs to the long-term unemployed and to people with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. And at least 2 percent of project funds should be allocated to such training. In addition, advantage should be taken of buildings trades apprenticeships — which must be fully available to women and minorities.

Robert B. Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written eleven books (including his most recent, Supercapitalism, which is now out in paperback). Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s “Marketplace” are heard by nearly five million people. This entry appeared on his blog.

Copyright 2008 Robert B. Reich

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