in collaboration with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Employ the unemployed in meeting the needs of their local community

File under: jobs, job training, other

5 (2 votes)

From: Robert V., Harrison, MI

People who are unemployed are a resource to be tapped, not a problem to be solved. In every community in America, there is work that needs to be done, and resources that are not developed. In every community, there are good people who want to work, buildings that sit empty, and equipment that is gathering dust. What is wrong with this picture?

The current systems of Unemployment Compensation provide income but not opportunity. Billions spent on ensuring eligibility and compliance and preventing overpayments could be used to build sustainable jobs in local communities. We can solve the problem of structured unemployment by developing a nationwide system of local Community Innovation Centers (CIC) that develop the skills, creativity and potential of citizens. Each CIC will carry out an ongoing community needs and opportunities assessment that identifies and prioritizes work that needs to be done in local communities. Workers will complete evaluations that match skills and interests with community needs. Groups of workers could form teams to tackle specific community improvement projects. Projects can evolve into businesses that provide dependable jobs well into the future.

Starting a new business is a challenging and risky process that requires years of development. The uncertain struggle to obtain funding combined with a lack of experience, resources, and support make it a gamble to even survive the first two years. One-third of new businesses don't make it that long and less than half are still operating after four years. CIC will identify business opportunities and provide resources to assist in planning, managing, and financing new enterprises. They will create umbrella and incubation centers where new business ideas that respond to identified community needs can be tested and developed until they are sustainable as independent entities.

The people who build and run CIC will own a stake in them. Unemployed workers will earn their benefits through productive work and will also acquire stock (called Community Pride) based on the quality and effectiveness of their efforts. This stock will gain cash value for the worker as profits increase from products and services sold by CICs and businesses developed within the program pay back start-up costs with a percentage of income. Communities would also have the option of using Community Pride as a means of exchange for locally produced products and services. As this exchange system develops, schools and community agencies could create agreements with employees to pay part of their salaries in Community Pride. This would free up funding to prevent layoffs and provide needed services.

This idea to solve poverty builds on the successful experience of the Hard Times Cafe (HTC), an empowerment program for people in poverty in Clare County, Michigan. In the eight years following Michigan's governor's decision to eliminate General Assistance in 1991, HTC patrons (mostly current and former welfare recipients and people who were unemployed and/or disabled), built an inclusive and effective self-managed program that resulted in over 220,000 hours of community service. Patrons reported finding over 460 jobs during that time and more than 220 patrons returned to school.


Keith A.
From , IL

This is a positive and innovative idea. I like it! It would seem to go well with some of the literature I've read on crowdsourcing / crowdsourced placemaking, as well as the work of architect Christopher Alexander, who has long held that local residents should be granted a greater role in planning and development, because they're the ones who know best what their communities need and want.

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