As Los Angeles Goes Green, Who Will Benefit?


THE FUTURE OF GREEN-At the moment, signs point to a green economic recovery from COVID.

Biden’s $2.0 trillion Build Back Better Recovery Plan and Governor Newsom’s plans to spend $1.5 billion to build out California’s electric vehicle infrastructure are laying the groundwork for a carbon-free economy. With the City of Los Angeles’s Green New Deal and Los Angeles County’s Our County Sustainability Plan, both published in 2019, LA has an existing regional economic development vision that will help us lead the nation in green jobs growth. 

However, few people understand the extent and characteristics of green industries and occupations. In order to accelerate future economic opportunities and to build effective workforce policy to realize the region’s goals, including the creation of 400,000 green jobs by 2050, we need to better understand LA’s green economy. HR&A’s recent green jobs report for the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) characterizes the current size and composition of the Los Angeles County green economy and describes actions needed to inclusively grow the green workforce. 

The green economy is already larger than many think -- encompassing one in twelve jobs in Los Angeles County today, a function of defining green jobs as jobs in businesses that produce green goods or services and jobs in traditional businesses that are responsible for making production processes more environmentally friendly. While many associate green jobs with solar panel technicians and wind turbine mechanics, occupations such as office and administrative support, sales, and other professional and technical service occupations make up 60% of green jobs. Moreover, the umbrella of green jobs continues to expand as traditional industries become greener. For instance, GM’s announcement that it will sell only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035 may signal a transition of the automotive industry. 

However, equity in the new green economy isn’t guaranteed. Green jobs are not only better for the environment, but they pay wages above the countywide average, and the vast majority do not require a bachelor’s degree. Yet, these jobs are disproportionally held by white people, and overwhelmingly by men. While women are approximately half the working age population and hold half of all jobs in LA County, only 37% of green jobs are held by women. People of color make up 75% of the County’s working-age population, but constitute only 65% of the labor force, and hold 65% of green jobs. There is an opportunity for the green economy to redress longstanding gender inequity in technology, manufacturing, and the trades, while also transcending manifestations of systemic racism in the greater LA job market. 

Here’s how LA can take action to build a more resilient and equitable green economy: 

  • Continue to fund the green recovery. All levels of government should support infrastructure stimulus and investment, which can accelerate job recovery and a green transition. HR&A found that a $1.0 million investment in zero-emissions transportation creates 15.3 jobs compared to just 2.3 for fossil fuels. Even in the event of limited new funding, governments can leverage the power of the public purse. Total government spending, inclusive of federal, state, and local spending, equals approximately one-third of the nation’s GDP. Policymakers can and should use their purchasing power to advance a green agenda. For instance, federal goals to replace the federal government's 645,000 vehicle fleet with carbon pollution-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles, will create good-paying, union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries. 
  • Create a regional consortium to advance a green jobs agenda. A convening of key stakeholders, including the City and County’s Workforce Development Boards, LACI, the California Energy Commission, academic leaders, non-profits, unions, and private industry representatives, among others, can foster agreement and collaboration on a set of shared milestones and actions necessary to successfully train and mobilize the green workforce. One initiative could be the development of a green jobs online portal to provide information on green careers, training programs, and job postings in one location. Such a portal should include listings for office administrators and programmers, as well as electricians and machinists.
  • Support programs serving populations that face additional barriers, such as women and Black and Latinx communities. Seventy-five percent of green jobs do not require a bachelor’s or advanced degree, but we need to ensure all communities have access to necessary technical training. Moreover, underserved populations see higher job placement success when also receiving soft skills training and braided services, such as childcare, transportation assistance, and access to supportive networking groups. 
  • Use the power of labor and community benefits agreements to promote equity. Government can use its procurement and regulatory policies to support green and minority-owned businesses and promote equitable hiring practices. For instance, Proterra, an electric bus manufacturer, worked in partnership with the LA County Department of Workforce Development, Aging, and Community Services, the United Steelworkers local chapter, Jobs to Move America and Citrus College to launch an Electric Bus Manufacturing training program. 

This program will not only strengthen Proterra’s employment pipeline, but advance equity and inclusion, helping it honor its community benefits agreement (CBA) goal that 50% of new hires be from communities facing barriers to employment, an agreement it likely signed out of both a desire to work with environmentally engaged unions and to build public procurement advantages. 

Recovery from the economic devastation of the pandemic presents a unique opportunity to not only rebuild our economy but also to reimagine an economy based on different values. With the right workforce development policies, Los Angeles can lead the nation in creating an economy that is both greener and more inclusive.


(Judith Taylor is a Partner at HR&A Advisors, Inc. Since joining the Los Angeles Office in 2013, Judith has focused her expertise in transit-oriented development (TOD) and economic and placemaking strategies for suburban, exurban, and historically disinvested communities.

Garrett Rapsilber is a senior analyst at HR&A Advisors, Inc. who specializes in urban planning, sustainable economic development, and land value capture.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.