THE BLOG
08/20/2012 06:10 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2012

Reducing Unemployment

The best way to reduce unemployment is to focus on empowering the communities experiencing the highest and most concentrated levels of poverty. The residents in these neighborhoods are the most untapped sources of supply and demand in our economy -- so let's let 'em rip so they can save the rest of us.

A lot of the residents in low-income neighborhoods receive public employment, housing and other income assistance to stabilize their individual basic needs. The individualized administration structure of receiving these services limits their individual ability to stabilize their community needs. Signing up for public assistance is not like joining a gardening or scrap booking club in affluent neighborhoods -- where you suddenly have access to a whole network of people with similar 'free' time, financial stability and passion for problem solving issues involving troublesome weeds or faulty cricuts.

It is more like going to a therapist or confessional. In order to receive services, a person must share every little detail related to their personal trials and tribulations, and this creates a 'barrier' in them being able to help each other. Now, I'm not contesting the richness or intention of data collection. Or comparing the knowledge of who owns a $100 garden tool to that of a person receiving some type of monthly assistance -- the 'need' reflected in signing up for each type of respective network or service already speaks volume (i.e., hobby versus survival). But why are the hobby enthusiasts more at liberty to easily help one another? They may have criminal backgrounds, and other 'personal' information, that is not aired out to their fellow gardeners and scrap bookers.

It makes sense that laws are in place restricting how information is shared, but the consequence of this is that service providers are challenged in facilitating the development of any voluntary transportation, childcare and other networking cooperatives amongst people living in the conditions of poverty. Things 'needed' before they are able to join expensive 'hobby' groups. At the agency I worked at, we had various volunteer and supported work positions. This was great, and although participants were able to manage and produce monthly newsletters, they were not allowed to address or mail them out to other participants because of confidentiality issues. Which makes the idea of them being allowed to oversee the actual implementation and facilitation of actual cooperative networks seem impossible.

This was one of the most frustrating realties for me as a service provider of public assistance. There is no reason other than law as to why it seems impossible. So step one would be figuring out a way to 'release' -- or properly conceal sensitive information in its proper place -- while allowing voluntary and consensual contact information to be shared among the various recipients. Staff have way too high of caseloads and paperwork obligations to oversee such a vital project -- and just because a person receives public assistance doesn't mean they are not capable of managing information and building self sustaining cooperative bridges in their communities. If what I am talking about seems 'foreign' or confusing, here's an example:

As staff, we knew the single and family households from both housing and employment programs. We knew who was living where and what possible benefits various people could have in helping each other. Person A is in a housing program and lives here. She is unable to work but can definitely watch children in a pinch -- and her 18-year-old son has his drivers license and a car. Person B is in an employment program and lives in the same neighborhood, in fact, only two doors down from Person A. They do not formally know each other and are rarely in the office at the same time. Person B has a great paying job in the suburbs, but sometimes seems 'unreliable.' Her two-year-old daughter needs extra medical attention from time to time, and she currently relies on someone else to drive her to and from work everyday. Wouldn't it be great to introduce these two, person A and person B, to see if they could figure out a way to help each other in times of need?

Yes, I know our nation is currently facing devastating unemployment rates and there is fear that the middle class will soon be forever extinguished -- and so it may seem like small potatoes to concern ourselves over how 'poor' people are able to assist each other in this ferocious economic climate. But you know what, our nation was built on the premise of having a class of people living in the conditions of poverty -- and until we correct that situation, we can expect everyone to be under economic attack.

That is why I wholeheartedly believe that the best way to reduce unemployment is to approach it from the inside out -- by empowering people living in the conditions of poverty to spearhead an effort to change those conditions. There would then be a 'trickle' effect of improvement in the economic conditions for everyone -- since poverty in itself would be decreased.

This little 900-word teaser is a tip of the iceberg to the issues of injustice and poverty I constantly find myself struggling with -- and how they relate to our modern society (and disturbing economic conditions, like high unemployment rates). I could talk and/or write about them as the day is long -- but right now I'm trying to do something about it.