With unemployment numbers finally inching in the right direction, President Obama announced a broad new spending strategy Tuesday that he hopes can grow this economic “green shoot” into green jobs.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution following a White House jobs summit and a trip through Pennsylvania steel country, Obama ideas for a new federal stimulus that would focus largely on small businesses and greener infrastructure projects, such as energy systems, as well as new financial incentives for people to retrofit their homes for energy efficiency.
It would involve a holistic approach that would take into account the effects of robust education, health care and financial systems on the country’s economic well-being, the president said.
“We cannot go back to an economy that yielded cycle after cycle of speculative booms and painful busts," Obama said.
"We cannot continue to accept an education system in which our students trail their peers in other countries, and a health care system in which exploding costs put our businesses at a competitive disadvantage. And we cannot continue to ignore the clean energy challenge or cede global leadership in the emerging industries of the 21st century.”
The president didn't specifiy a cost, but leading Democrats $75 billion to $150 billion; the recovery package approved by Congress in Feburary was $787 billion.
Obama said his plans would both “meet the crisis of the moment” and lay “a new foundation for the future.” The crisis of the moment is the current economic recession, but the problem Obama is trying to address is a much broader, much older one whose causes run deeper.
The president on Monday visited Allentown, Pa., a town synonymous with shuttered factories since the 1982 Billy Joel song. The theme of unemployment in places like western Pennsylvania was already immortalized by songs such as Bob Dylan’s “North Country Blues” and countless folk songs before it.
Labor and environmental groups welcomed the president’s approach to rebuilding the economy in a way that might help mitigate unemployment in the more distant future as well as in the present and revitalize the entire nation. Nationally, the unemployment rate had reached 10.2 percent in October before falling to in November.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke Monday of a “transition to a greener economy” that would entail the modernization of industry, new technology and workers’ skill sets. Following Tuesday’s speech, he said he is “encouraged that President Obama and his team are proposing many of the same steps that we see as the most promising, efficient routes to job creation.”
These steps include rebuilding major infrastructure such as roads, school and “energy systems,” Obama said.
The president proposed “a boost in investment in the nation’s infrastructure beyond what was included in the Recovery Act."
"By design, Recovery Act work on roads, bridges, water systems, Superfund sites, broadband networks and clean energy projects will all be ramping up in the months ahead,” he said.
He also outlined a new program that would provide financial incentives for consumers to retrofit their home to become more energy efficient. It's the sort of project that “we know creates jobs, saves money for families, and reduces the pollution that threatens our environment," he said.
Whether the incentives program can actually become a green jobs dynamo remains to be seen.
, who has worked on reducing building sector greenhouse gas emissions as founder of Architecture 2030, argues that the proposal doesn't go far enough. The final savings to consumers from an incentive to retrofit would not be “worth the hassle” to the homeowners, nor would it do much to reverse the loss of construction jobs, he said.