Lean green pickings

Before the recession began in December 2007, there was a class of people who consistently had barriers to employment. These people had limited job skills and earned only the minimum wage or had no opportunities to get promoted in their jobs.

Others couldn’t get a job at all because they had a criminal record or they lived in communities with high unemployment.

Enter a bad economy.

All of a sudden you have more people fighting to get and keep a job. But when plans were in the works to create a new economy, a green economy, the first group of struggling employment-seekers was what some area planners had in mind. Now it’s unclear who will actually get these jobs.

While many struggle to find work, attention to the people with the most significant barriers to employment should not be lost.

The Chicago Reporter takes on this issue in our cover story “Landing a Green Job.” Jeff Kelly Lowenstein investigates what’s at stake in this new economy–”jobs, money and a foothold in the middle class–”and discusses the region’s pre-existing barriers that will make it difficult for some to access these resources.

In his reporting, Kelly Lowenstein looks at whether there are adequate job training programs, particularly in Chicago’s South and West side communities that are predominantly black and have the city’s highest unemployment rates.

Is the green economy going to bring poor people out of poverty? Will the people who have the most significant employment barriers be largely ignored as the newly unemployed jockey for jobs?

We address many of those issues, including what the term “green economy” really means. Kelly Lowenstein’s investigation points out the obstacles that our region faces as this economy unfolds during the next 18 months. We also tell the story of one local organization that is grooming ex-offenders to work in this new sector, despite the intense competition for jobs in construction, where unemployment rates have soared. We profile a nonprofit in Baltimore that has created a unique program that recruits, trains and hires the unemployed for green construction projects.

It’s clear that people with employment barriers are getting trained. The question is: How much work will they get in the green economy?

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