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by Dan Steinberg

July 8, 2011

...Karen Chapple, a planning professor at UC-Berkeley, reminds us, "Despite the rallying cry for green jobs as pathways out of poverty, a green economy does not necessarily mean well-paying, green-collar jobs unless local job standards and training programs are in place." Indeed, a sizable number of potential green-collar jobs entail redeploying workers in industries that tend to pay low wages. For this reason, another Center for Community Innovation report lists living wage and benefits ordinances as its first recommendation to policymakers.

This is especially relevant to New York City, which has seen a sharp rise in the working poor and an unprecedented level of income inequality. New York City ranks worst with respect to inequality of household income among the 50 largest cities in the U.S., with the top 1 percent of the population receiving 44 percent of income in 2007, according to a report published by the Fiscal Policy Institute. A recent study by the Drum Major Institute further details the extent to which the city's lowest-paid industries dominate new job growth.

Despite these trends, PlaNYC does not incorporate wage or local hiring requirements in its projects. In fact, the Bloomberg administration is fighting a City Council bill that would require the recipients of economic development subsidies for large projects to pay their employees a living wage of $10 an hour with medical benefits or $11.50 without. Meanwhile, the city has subsidized the creation of poverty wage jobs through its awarding of grants, tax incentives, and land use changes to stadiums and shopping complexes. In order for the city to achieve equitable and sustainable long-term economic growth, public investment in green industries must be tied to a living wage.

In the absence of leadership from the Bloomberg administration, the task of coordinating the city's economic development activities with its sustainability plan has largely been left to non-governmental organizations such as Urban Agenda (now the Alliance for a Greater New York), the Pratt Center for Community Development, NYC Apollo Alliance, and grassroots efforts such as Green Worker Cooperatives. In 2009 Urban Agenda and the Center for American Progress published the New York City Green-Collar Jobs Roadmap, a detailed overview of workforce development resources and needs, a breakdown of potential growth industries for a high-road green economy, and a host of essential policy recommendations to be incorporated into PlaNYC.

Despite such initiatives, the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability still has not engaged in a meaningful discussion of green collar jobs and industries. To be sure, PlaNYC's reports contain an implicit strategy for economic development, assuming that becoming greener will make New York ripe for outside investment. The reports also explicitly recognize that many of its initiatives will result in job creation if workers are adequately trained. However, the lack of a specific plan for green collar jobs cannot be dismissed as an oversight given the cacophony of voices that called on the city to address this shortcoming after the release of the first report.

Perhaps the problem stems from two conflicting agendas within this administration. Economic development officials have been charged with pursuing growth at any cost while the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability and other agencies seek to mitigate the harmful effects of growth. If economic development officials considered growth as more a strategy than goal, more a means than an end, then PlaNYC might have focused on harnessing the emerging green economy to achieve a more just and sustainable city.

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