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Engine of growth: clean-tech jobs

Clean energy work is a rapidly growing industry, but critics say it's no panacea for unemployment.

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Blue to Green: Angela Green lost her printing job, and is now project manager for Solar Richmond.

Dave Getzchman/special to the christian science monitor

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On the campaign trail and during Monday's debate, the Democratic presidential candidates touted "green-collar jobs" as a solution to unemployment. These are manual labor jobs within new clean-technology industries that the politicians say cannot be outsourced. Or, as former President Bill Clinton put it recently, to green a building "somebody's got to be standing on that roof."

Angela Greene is that person on the roof. After losing her job within the printing industry, she finds herself atop a home in Richmond, Calif., installing solar panels.

"I saw I would be able to make a stable income for myself," says Ms. Greene, "and at the same time be able to help my community and the environment."

Clean energy has become a $55-billion-a-year industry worldwide, and its rapid growth is fueling a shortage of workers in emerging hubs like California's Bay Area. Advocates for the poor say there's an opportunity here to rebuild an industrial base of well-paying, low-skilled jobs, but some critics question whether they are overstating the job potential of the sector.

"Nearly every city is vying to become a hub of clean technology or green-collar jobs. Every community college that has any budget to develop a new program is looking at a lot of these new technologies," says Joel Makower, executive editor of greenbiz.com in Oakland, Calif.

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