The Green New Deal is a policy resolution introduced by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Senator Edward Markey. It’s a sweeping set of ideals…a quick move to renewable energy, energy efficiency, upgrading the electricity grid and transportation. It also includes a jobs guarantee — that jobs will pay a sustaining wage. President Trump has ridiculed the proposal. Even labor unions represented by the AFL-CIO have said the resolution’s goals for justly transitioning coal and other workers are unrealistic.
Joseph Kane, senior research associate with the Brookings Institution says jobs are a critical part of the Green New Deal, but workers need to be ready for them. The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant talks with Kane for our podcast, Trump on Earth. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
LISTEN to their conversation.
Julie Grant: So you and your colleagues wrote a piece about the Green New Deal calling its vision “exciting and solid” and that the transition to a cleaner economy can be expected to bring jobs for all kinds of workers. The Green New Deal calls for something called the federal jobs guarantee. What is that?
Joseph Kane: There’s some differing interpretations of what that means. But at least in the resolution for the Green New Deal itself is the creation of family prevailing wages through jobs. However many jobs that creates, in the end, is still open to debate. What sectors those jobs are and what wages, very precisely what those mean over time, I think is still up in the air. But, the goal is to create opportunities for all types of workers across all skill levels to gain on-the-job-training pathways to long term careers — where they do have an opportunity to earn wages that kind of bring them…certainty.
Julie Grant: In your piece, you describe an economy with many new kinds of jobs in it. So if the Green New Deal comes to pass, what kinds of jobs do you foresee?
Joseph Kane: I think there’s this mentality, even going back to the stimulus package 10 years ago following the Great Recession, of job creation. To me, as we think of this transition to a clean economy as envisioned in the Green New Deal, and a more opportunistic economy overall, it can’t just be about jobs. It has to be about long term career pathways — really workforce development.
We think of our infrastructure investments in particular. It’s not just short term construction projects, although those are certainly important. It’s really long term operation and maintenance. So when we think of our power plants, we think of our utility systems, and we think of even wind turbines and other sort of new technologies, it’s going to take a lot of different workers, not just sort of short term construction laborers.
But we know that as we make this transition, there are going to be increased demands, on not only our existing workforce, but actually recruiting and training and retaining a younger workforce, too. So, it’s not going to just start and end within the next decade, for example.
Julie Grant: We’re not just talking about people who can do solar installations. There are other types of jobs that you see coming?
Joseph Kane: It’s not just isolated opportunities in one or two or three markets across the country. But really, what are all types of regions doing to advance a transition to a cleaner economy? What types of of employers? I would argue, not just energy employers, but even in transportation and logistics and other sectors throughout the economy.
There’s really a variety of pathways and it’s something that my colleagues and I are looking into, not just the macro-trends — there are gonna be x million jobs created over so many years — but actually there are hundreds of occupations found throughout the economy and what’s that going to require in terms of training, in terms of equipping workers with the skills that they’re going to need to succeed and ultimately, not only help their own careers, but help all of us transition to that cleaner economy?
Julie Grant: Do you think that the Green New Deal actually has a chance to equalize the economy? It sounds like an idealistic goal, but there may really be some opportunities for people who wouldn’t have had those without this kind of an ideological push behind it?
Joseph Kane: Sure. The Green New Deal has pried open this policy window where even just a few months ago we weren’t even really talking about some of these topics. So in effect, even if the Green New Deal doesn’t really go anywhere, and in Washington, it has opened people’s minds to some of these these issues are really new, and if anything, are only demanding more attention, not just nationally, but at a state and local level. I think we need to move beyond the politics of this, and really think what are some of the very tangible next steps that could be taken from this vision and actually translated into feasible action.
Julie Grant: And are we already seeing in some of those areas that are experiencing climate change, the growth in the jobs that we’re going to need to deal with the effects of climate change?
Joseph Kane: I would look less at job counts. That’s often a very visible, politically convenient way of thinking of some of these workforce issues. ‘Well, we added x thousands of jobs in this market, thus it’s sort of a victory.’
But actually, what I would think of is, ‘OK, we’re having these climate pressures. We may have actually experienced some of these issues firsthand and are dealing with the costs right now. What is our workforce ecosystem that’s currently in place? Do we have the talent in place right now who are going to be ready to take on some of these tasks in years to come?’
I know that we have seen some of this in New Orleans, which is the go-to example of the need for investing in more resilient infrastructure. Post-Katrina in particular, where we are seeing many more local collaborations and investments, not just in the physical infrastructure, but also in the talent that’s going to be overseeing and ultimately powering that infrastructure for years to come. That to me is going to spell a longer term mark of success than just the total number of jobs created here.