There is hope for positive changes to our economic system. Positive changes that challenge the economic status quo. Changes that many of us so desperately need.
We’re talking real hope not some campaign slogan. We’re talking hope we can believe in. No question that the economic situation for many Americans is pretty grim. The numbers confirm it. First, the Pew Charitable Trust released a report called “Downward Mobility from the Middle Class:Waking Up from the American Dream.” Next, the Census Bureau released its 2010 report on income and poverty in U.S. Both are very important reads but let’s cover just the highlights:
Downward Mobility from the Middle Class
This report addresses a few of the drivers for downward mobility - mostly educational reasons and marital status of parents. But this translates into something bigger - an economic system that suppresses family incomes and provides much fewer opportunities, particularly through education, to achieve upward mobility. It used to be that a person could reach the middle class with a high school diploma but today it seems highly unlikely. It’s really the nature of our economic system today.
Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010
Can you see how both reports are related? Again no opportunities for upward mobility for millions of Americans. It’s the nature of our economic system today.
Some people would argue that the above facts show that we need a stronger social safety net or in short-term more fiscal stimulus. Sure, those things would help but they are only treating the symptoms and not the disease. The disease is our economic system itself. A system based on redistribution of wealth and income upward through suppression of wage growth and increased profit margins. Where economic benefits accrue to those who really don’t need any more. A system that substitutes debt for real income.
But there is hope. Real hope and possibilities to challenge our current economic status quo by conducting business through a different business model. A business model that has been around a long time but has been underutilized in the U.S. A business model that puts people before profits. Here are a few examples:
Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives - a network of six worker-owned bakery cooperatives that began in 1997. In this worker cooperative, like most others, workers are the owners and decision makers for the business. Here is good story about Arizmendi from Media Roots:
The central aim of the Arizmendi Cooperative Association is to create a truly democratic economy – one in which everyone has a say in the decisions that affect them on a day-to-day basis. The biggest challenges to achieving this goal, explains Tim [Huet], are raising money (they do not take government or foundation grant money) and more importantly, living in a society that actually teaches people to be powerless.
Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES) a not-for-profit organization operating in San Francisco Bay Area. WAGES’ mission is to build worker-owned green businesses that create healthy, dignified jobs for low-income women. WAGES launches cooperatives where women develop personal and professional skills, become leaders, and gain economic security. WAGES has developed five eco-friendly cleaning cooperatives.
Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing - a worker owned cooperative from Madison, Wisconsin. Since 1980, Isthmus has been delivering thousands of high performance automation machines and systems. Fun little fact about Isthmus - they were featured in Michael Moore’s documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”
Union Cab - a worker owned cooperative from Madison, Wisconsin. Union Cab has a very interesting history. Union Cab may be the only taxi cab company in the U.S. that pays a living wage plus 100% of health insurance premiums of worker-owners.
Evergreen Cooperatives from Cleveland, Ohio. Evergreen Cooperative Laundry is the first in a network of green cooperatives centered around ‘anchor institutions’ such as hospitals, universities and hotels in Cleveland, Ohio. Evergreen cooperatives are worker-owned and democratically managed.
Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) from New York, City. CHCA is the largest worker owned cooperative in the U.S. with 1,600 members and revenue upward of $40 million. CHCA provides quality home health care and above industry average wages and benefits to its worker-members.
Green Worker Cooperatives from the South Bronx, New York. Green Worker Cooperatives helps develop environmentally positive worker cooperatives in South Bronx. It also has developed a very popular Coop Academy where it provides an intense 16 weeks of training and support for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start a green cooperative business.
Again, these are just a few examples of hope but we need more. Particularly if want to make positive changes to the gloomy poverty and downward mobility data. We need figure out ways to change this economic status quo. We can no longer expect nor can we wait for Washington to address the dire economic situation. We have to do this on our own. We have to find new solutions and new ideas. Worker cooperatives can be one solution.
But change will only happen when we decide to make change. Otherwise we will continue at best to languish or at worse to economically degrade. It’s really up to us.
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