How Latinos Might Help Boost a Green Economy

PHOTO: Green workers install a residential grid-tied solar array on a hillside in Malibu, California, USA.Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Green workers install a residential grid-tied solar array on a hillside in Malibu, California, USA.

Near-double digit unemployment among Latinos persists more than four years after the U.S. economic collapse, but a new report suggests that so-called "green jobs" could help reduce joblessness.

According to a report from the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Latino-advocacy organization, Hispanic workers stand to benefit significantly from the growing clean-energy sector.

"It is in the interest of the country to align the fastest growing segment of our labor market with some of the fastest growing sectors of the economy," Catherine Singley, a senior policy analyst with NCLR, said during a news call.

The report identifies five metropolitan areas as diverse as Knoxville, Tenn. and Los Angeles where Latinos might benefit from the green jobs sector. Some of the areas, such as McAllen, Texas, already have sizeable Latino populations. Others, such as Little Rock, Ark., have small but growing Hispanic populations. All, according to the report, have bustling green economies.

Latinos are supportive of the idea of green jobs, and clean-energy jobs typically pay more than traditional sectors that rely heavily on Latino labor, such as construction and hospitality. The majority of the green jobs in the five metropolitan areas studied require less than a bachelors degree. Almost nine in 10 Latinos lack a college degree, according to a Brookings Institution report.

About 15 percent of the country's workforce is Latino, and Hispanics are on track to make up a full third of all U.S. workers by 2050, many of whom could potentially fill clean-energy jobs. In 2010, the Los Angeles area alone had nearly 90,000 clean-energy jobs, according to the NCLR report.

But there are some challenges to increasing the number of Latinos in the green jobs sector.

Many Latinos aren't sure how to go about finding green jobs. And while some already have the skills needed to get into the job market, they require specific training for jobs such as solar-panel installation. Latinos are also disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to adequate transportation to work, and access to social networks that can result in jobs.

The report urges companies and nonprofit organizations to focus on training Latino workers for green jobs and for state and local governments to focus on adult education programs.

"I think it's safe to say," Singley said, "this is more than just a passing fad."