'Green-Collar' Jobs and the Presidential Campaign

There's been a lot of talk during this presidential election campaign season about "green-collar" jobs. Melissa Block talks with Jerome Ringo, president of The Apollo Alliance, about how environmentally friendly forms of energy can create jobs.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

As the presidential candidates talk about the economy, energy and the environment, the threads converge in a colorful term.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I want to put money into clean energy jobs, green-collar jobs.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): To establish a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): With green technologies, we can create thousands, millions of new jobs in America.

BLOCK: Green collar, or just plain green jobs, what are they? I asked Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance. That's a coalition to promote investment in clean energy. He's met with all three of those candidates.

Mr. JEROME RINGO (President, Apollo Alliance): Well, green-collar jobs would be the jobs that surround this new green economy. When we talk about production, a wind turbine for example, someone has to design those wind turbines, someone has to build those wind turbines, someone has to install the wind turbine, someone has to maintain it. That's jobs. And those are jobs that are going to contribute to a clean environment, but at the same time, create a whole new economy for America.

BLOCK: So it sounds like this green collar is basically a merger of white and blue, in other words, it would be the head of a company promoting wind turbines would also be the guy who's bolting the wind turbine into place?

Mr. RINGO: That's exactly right. And we talk about investment on all phases. Those in the business community will be investors - that will be government-intervention to give the necessary subsidies or encouragement for people to go green. At the same time, we are talking about hiring many, many of Americans, putting Americans back to work again that have been laid off, training Americans that we thought at one time were untrainable, and opportunity to take the shackles of poverty off of many people that are poor and give them a place in the workplace.

BLOCK: I've also seen this term green-collar jobs stretched, maybe, to include things like bicycle repair or say a housekeeper of a hotel that has switched to chemical-free products.

Do you think those are legitimately green-collar jobs?

Mr. RINGO: Well, I think to a degree. I mean, when you talk about environmentally free cleaning products, of course, someone has to produce them. The person that is working in the hotel using not good environmental product will switch over to an environmental product. It doesn't necessarily mean it creates a new job. But it surely does create a new awareness about reducing that dependency on practices of the past.

BLOCK: But if you're thinking numbers here, that's not a new job, as you say, that's a reclassification or re-labeling of a job that already exists.

Mr. RINGO: That is correct. But there are many, many new jobs. When you look at places like Flint, Michigan, where the economy is just so depressed as a result of layoffs from the auto industry, when we look into retrofitting the assembly lines to build hybrid cars, those people that are unemployed will be gainfully employed.

BLOCK: You talked about a green-collar job helping people throw off the shackles of poverty. But is there any real indication that a green-collar job would pay a low-wage worker any more than the blue-collar job they may have had?

Mr. RINGO: Well, I think it will first put the low-wage worker who's not working back to work. And as the demand increases for green products, it would drive the market to a place that it will create more jobs, more competitive wages, and it would be a win-win.

BLOCK: We've heard Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both using this number: 5 million green-collar jobs created over the next decade. What's your best projection of what's realistic there?

Mr. RINGO: Well, I think they are being realistic. Both have embraced the Apollo approach, believing that we can create three to five million new jobs and promote about $300 billion-plus in investment over 10 years. And I think they are correct.

BLOCK: So 5 million jobs in 10 years. Do you think that's doable?

Mr. RINGO: Absolutely. And as we can remember, back in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy said that we could get man on the moon in 10 years, many people said it's simply not doable. Well, he did it in nine. We did it in nine. And we believe that with the same energy and passion that President Kennedy led this country to put man on the moon, that's why we call it the Apollo Alliance, that we can, as well, declare our energy independence within 10 years and create 5 million plus new jobs.

BLOCK: Jerome Ringo, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. RINGO: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Jerome Ringo is president of the Apollo Alliance. He's met with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain to talk about green jobs.

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