Escalating worldwide fuel prices and environmental concerns are helping to dramatically increase the demand for clean alternatives. It has become a global imperative that we break our addiction to oil. Providing for the ever increasing energy needs of the planet is going to take a wide range of alternate energy sources and green technologies are finally beginning to establish themselves in the energy mix.....a sector expected to grow tenfold within several years. The future is bright for renewable energy sources and a more sustainable world.
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By Desmond L. Marshall
Washington - Renee Owens, 36, an unemployed single mother with two kids, ages 6 and 12, was searching for work. But in a bad economy, few companies were hiring.
She has worked as an unskilled laborer at constructions sites, and her last job was at the International House of Pancakes, where she made $3.20 an hour, plus tips. Then she lost her job and was unemployed for a year and half. Owens had tried many training programs, but they could not help with job placement. She said many of the instructors were undereducated, and some judged her unfavorably because she is 6 feet tall.
"I was being picked on. I was like, why are you building me up just to tear me back down?" Owens said. A former boxer, Owens was determined to not let this affect her search for a job.
Many women like Owens face similar struggles.
Eventually, she discovered Wilder Opportunities for Women, which works nationally and in the D.C. area to build pathways to economic independence for families, women and girls.
Owens graduated from WOW's D.C. program earlier this month and has started work as cement mason, putting in new sidewalks and repairing old ones.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 56 percent of the 39.8 million Americans living in poverty in 2008 were women. And of 13.5 million children living in poverty, 8.5 million were being raised in single-parent household, nine in 10 headed by women.
Unemployment rates nationally have hovered just below 10 percent recently, with April's rate of 9.9 percent up from 9.7 percent in March. In the District, unemployment is higher, but the rate went from 11.5 percent in March to 11 percent in April. Women are doing better than men nationally, with an 8.2 percent unemployment rate in April, up from 8 percent in March.
WOW Executive Director Joan Kuriansky said the organization found that training low-income women for green jobs meant they could earn double or triple what they had earned in previous job.
Since 1964, WOW has trained more than 10,000 women for well-paid work in the D.C. area.
According to the Department of Labor, green jobs reduce the use of fossil fuels, decrease pollution and greenhouse emissions, increase the efficiency of energy usage, recycle and develop and adopt renewable sources of energy.
Some good green jobs include construction managers, electricians, welders, environmental engineers and agricultural workers.
"Not every green job is a good job ... part of what we have to do is ensure there are career ladders in these fields so that women have the opportunity to move from a job that does not pay self sufficiently to one that will over time," Kuriansky said.
WOW and the Women's Economic Security Campaign released a report, "Creating Opportunity for Low-Income Women in the Green Economy," which says these nontraditional jobs will help women move out of poverty.
"Even with increased funding, women face substantial barriers to accessing green jobs, including a lack of training and role models in these fields, limited work supporters, and sexual harassment and hiring discrimination," the report says.
The program taught Owens many skills to prepare for a job for the green economy, including blueprint reading, weatherization, construction math and introduction to tools and materials.
Thursday, WOW, Women's Policy Inc. and Climb Wyoming, a job placement program for women, held a briefing on Capitol Hill to inform people about green jobs.
"With the proper training and supports low-income women can thrive in the green collar workforce," the report says.
Many women can be like Owens, but they need proper programs to help them succeed.
"They were concerned about my concerns," Owens said. "I found somebody that took me in as family... [WOW] has been a blessing ever since."
On Saturday, Owens began her first day of work at Plasterers' and Cement Masons' Local 891 with more training. She will be making about $14 a hour, with the possibility of a raise every six months.
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