Green Jobs and the Pink-Collar Ghetto

By Elizabeth Palmberg 2-24-2010

A new report this week tells us that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus bill), now a year old, so far is responsible for saving or creating roughly one to two million jobs in the U.S. As suggested by that cute little sprout in the corner of the logo, some of those jobs are green: among other goals, the stimulus aims at weatherizing three-quarters of all federal buildings, and more than a million homes. Beyond retrofitting buildings, there are many other forms of green jobs: building and driving mass transit; building and installing renewable energy sources such as windmills; updating the power system to a "smart grid."

But if we're not careful, those green jobs will come with a highly undesirable architectural feature: a very low glass ceiling. More like a glass floor, actually. Many of the construction and engineering trades in which green jobs are likely to grow are, at present, virtually all male: 97% of construction workers, and a whopping 99% of roofers and plumbers are men. (In contrast, 98% of preschool teachers are women -- and they average only $11.48 an hour, vs. a roofer's $16.17).

During this recession, news articles have told us how women's levels of unemployment are not as high as men's -- but that doesn't tell the whole story. On average, a woman who works full time makes only 77 cents for every dollar the average full-time male worker makes. And, of adults who work full time but make less than $15,000 a year, ninety percent are women.

This pink-collar ghetto is no way to build a solid economic future for our families and our country, as the good folks at the Women's Economic Security Campaign, a project of the Women's Funding Network, are pointing out. In current stimulus spending -- and in the future green jobs that our country is going to need as both fuel prices and atmospheric carbon levels rise -- we need to be intentional about including women in green-jobs training programs, and making workable child care part of the package.

And we also need to pay attention not only to ushering women into low-skill, low-wage jobs, but also to helping them move up to the kind of living-wage jobs through which they can support a family. That will not only help green our economy, but also put some desperately needed green in the wallets of hardworking women seeking financial security for their families.

portrait-elizabeth-palmbergElizabeth Palmberg is an assistant editor of Sojourners. She encountered the Women's Economic Security Campaign last month at United by Faith: Building a Better Future for Women and Girls, a conference hosted by the Women's Funding Network.

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