East Bay sees growth in green economy

August 2, 2008 12:39:53 AM PDT
More Americans are out of work. The Labor Department's July numbers are out and they show a nationwide unemployment rate of 5.7 percent. That's up from 5.5 percent in June.

The numbers are in and the United States economy lost a net 51,000 jobs in July, many of them here in the Bay Area.

"We've lost jobs every month for the last seven months," said Professor Harley Shaiken, a U.C. Berkeley economist. "We've seen job loss across the board. We've seen it certainly in manufacturing, and in construction, both expected. We've seen it in retail sales. We've seen it certainly in auto dealerships."

It's not just about jobs lost, but also lost hours. The average work week in the U.S. declined last month to 33.6 hours, the lowest since 2004. Many employees now working part-time, would rather work full-time.

Teen unemployment jumped up 2 percent to a total of 20.3 percent. That's the highest rate since 1982.

The job picture is especially bad in the East Bay. Unemployment in Oakland is 8.4 percent, in Pittsburg 9 percent and in Richmond 9.2 percent.

Nicole Taylor is president of the East Bay Community Foundation. The group studied living-wage job opportunities in the East Bay and found them especially scarce in what's called an "hourglass economy."

"So if you picture an hour-glass, the top is the high wage, high-earner, high-skilled jobs and at the bottom, the low-wage, low-skilled jobs and not a whole lot in the middle," said Taylor.

There is one area of growth in the East Bay in the emerging "green economy."

"The sectors that we're talking about are things like energy efficiency, solar installation, green construction," said Emily Kirsch, an organizer for the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign.

In Oakland, the Ella Baker Human Rights Center has launched an initiative to create more green jobs in the communities that need them the most.

"Our concern is that those opportunities are available to poor people and people of color who are traditionally locked out of the green economy," said Kirsch.

And outside of the green economy, many experts expect the job picture to get worse before it gets better.


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