Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A jobs plan that benefits everyone

Former president Bill Clinton recently took to the pages of Newsweek to offer 14 ways to get the economy moving.  Of greatest interest for disconnected young people is a "white roofs" initiative that can gear up quickly, requires little education and training, provides substantive work experience that can become the foundation for jobs in construction / remediation, will have positive environmental benefits for New York City, and could potentially pay for itself through fees charged to beneficiaries -- a win-win for everyone.  To quote Clinton's proposal:

8. PAINT ’EM WHITE

Look at the tar roofs covering millions of American buildings. They absorb huge amounts of heat when it’s hot. And they require more air conditioning to cool the rooms. Mayor Bloomberg started a program to hire and train young people to paint New York’s roofs white. A big percentage of the kids have been able to parlay this simple work into higher-skilled training programs or energy-related retrofit jobs. (And, believe it or not, painting the roof white can lower the electricity use by 20 percent on a hot day!)

Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white; every roof in Little Rock should be white. Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere! In most of these places you could recover the cost of the paint and the labor in a week. It’s the quickest, cheapest thing you can do. In the current environment it’s been difficult for the mayors to get what is otherwise a piddling amount of money to do it everywhere. Yet lowering the utility bill in every apartment house 10 to 20 percent frees cash that can be spent to increase economic growth.

While New York City has taken limited steps toward creating a pathway into the green sector, a much expanded program could potentially put thousands of young people to work for much of the year.  (To date, the laudable Brownfield WORKS! and Green City Force programs have touched just a tiny percentage of young people in need of immediate employment.)  The opportunity is tremendous: while 1,600 volunteers have painted over one million square feet of rooftops to date through the NYC Cool Roofs initiative, the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability estimates that New York City contains more than 1.6 billion square feet of rooftops in total.

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