July 28, 2011 —
There is no question that job creation must take a prominent place in any discussion of what businesses or industries it might make sense to promote in our area—or indeed any area. But there are other factors that must be weighed as well, and it seems to us that, all too often, the “jobs” card is played as a kind of trump designed to shut down discussion of the pros and cons of any particular business development.
We’ve seen it happen with regard to casinos, in which case it is used as an excuse to brush off not only environmental damage but factors such as infrastructure costs, social damage and requirements for an expanded criminal justice system. We are seeing it with regard to natural gas drilling, with its environmental and social costs, stress on roads and emergency response systems, conflicts with traditional economic mainstays like tourism and so forth.
We absolutely concede the importance of providing jobs, but we believe that the conversation should only begin, not end, with the contention that such-and-such a business will bring in a certain number of jobs. Other questions that need to be asked are: How high is the quality of the jobs in terms of pay and benefits, and will they go to county residents? Are there alternative industries or businesses that could be attracted that would provide higher quality jobs beyond the construction phrase, and employ in-area workers over the long haul? And even if a business actually does bring in a certain number of permanent jobs, will there be long-term costs to infrastructure, social fabric, environment and existing industries that could, in the long run, more than offset any benefit from short-term job creation?
There is even a question as to whether the promised jobs will actually be delivered. As pointed out in a couple of recent letters, the number of jobs promised related to the Millennium Pipeline was 17; the current number of jobs is 0. Similarly, the Monticello Motor Club was supposed to have created 25 jobs. The actual number is eight.
But if a business provides any jobs at all, isn’t that better than nothing? Well, maybe it’s better than nothing if the only alternative is nothing. But that’s not the case: we can also proactively seek to encourage businesses or industries that can be shown to provide as many or jobs of higher quality, while fitting in with a sustainable model that provides less stress on the environment and human infrastructure.
In this regard, we find particularly interesting a recent Brookings Institution study showing that the so-called “clean economy,” defined as sectors that produce goods and services with environmental benefit, now generates more jobs in this nation than fossil fuels. As reported in a news brief last week, it concluded that these clean jobs not only outnumbered those in the fossil-fuel related area, but also included better paying jobs for lower-skilled workers, so called “green collar” jobs.
If we can choose between an industry that is recognized to pollute, to contribute to global warming and to cause infrastructure damage, but creates jobs, and one that is environmentally friendly, creates more jobs—and just incidentally is the wave of the future rather than a 20th century dinosaur like fossil fuels—why on earth would we choose the former?
We can see a little piece of how the clean economy is becoming effective in Sullivan County, where New York State’s Green Jobs – Green New York program is now being promoted (see page 5). In the program, homeowners get a free NYSERDA audit resulting in a list of specific measures that will help them save money on energy. Local contractors are recommended who can do the work, and if the homeowner in fact decides to implement the upgrade, up to $13,000 in low-interest loans is available. Payments on the loans are made in low monthly amounts that, in the program’s experience so far, have been consistently lower than the amount of money saved on purchasing energy.
The people who do the auditing and installation are local. The families that save money are local. The industry is clean and sustainable. This, surely, is smart job creation. It shows us that boosting employment doesn’t always have to be a negative tradeoff in which we have to give away pieces of our environment, our infrastructure, our social fabric, or our future. Next time somebody tells you that we must put up with the degradation of our quality of life for the sake of creating jobs, remember that that does not have to be the end of the conversation.