One of the most promising developments of the past several years is the emergence of a green economy. With environmental awareness growing across this country, green skills are being added to existing occupations (in fields such as energy and engineering) and new jobs that are primarily “green” are rapidly emerging. Green jobs—jobs that contribute to meeting the goal of achieving environmental sustainability—encompass a broad range of occupations and skill sets, from technical expertise in building, retrofitting, conservation, or planning, to business functions that support the work such as sales, customer service, or accounting. Some green jobs are new; others represent the retooling of existing occupations. Jobs range from entry level positions to those requiring advanced credentials, but most are “middle-skill,” requiring more than a high school degree but less than a four-year college education.
This paper explores the extent to which this emerging green economy can offer a pathway out of poverty for low-income young people, many of whom have disengaged from school and are struggling to find a way into the economic mainstream. These disconnected youth—some six million strong—represent an untapped resource. Despite the fact that they have experienced difficulties in their personal lives or communities and may not have completed high school, many seek a second chance, returning to programs such as Service and Conservation Corps or other education and work initiatives in their local communities. Given the right supports, these young people can be valuable assets for new green industries seeking to grow a skilled workforce and to the communities in which they reside.