Jobs and Civic Engagement

There has been a long-standing claim that in those communities where residents are civically engaged there is a better life as measured by many things including more employment – jobs – economy. It strikes me now that with the national and local economy suffering and with so many people out of work, the impact on civic engagement cannot be good.  The Civic Health Index - 2009 is a recent survey on this topic. That survey was conducted in May of this year and some troubling data confirms this connection. Nationally more than 12 million people were unemployed when that survey was conducted. That is twice the number from one year earlier and our local environment is not better, with unemployment here in our county about 20% higher than the national rate.

My intention here is not so much to focus on the impact on civic engagement as it is to emphasize the importance of thinking about economy as an element of civic engagement. They are inextricably intertwined. One happens perhaps as a consequence of the other and neither is a pre-requisite since economy/jobs happen from connections and relationships and when people are employed there is also more connection – civic engagement.

Most jobs are secured through personal connections. That is, my neighbor or relative knows of an opening at his/her place of employment. When conditions in a neighborhood facilitate the exchange of such information there is an increased chance of finding a job. And in this case one can define neighbor broadly to include the businesses that are in or close to a neighborhood.

In a neighborhood in Denver a group of neighbors chose to set up meetings with all of the businesses (possible employers) within walking distance of the neighborhood. They talked with these businesses about their connection based upon where they are – in or close to the neighborhood; they were defined as “neighbor-businesses.” Many of the potential employers agreed that as openings became available they would let the neighborhood know first or early. Some even promised to give preference to local residents.

This happened because people in that neighborhood in Denver were connected around something they cared about. Let’s pay attention to the relationship between economy/jobs and civic connectedness. I think there is some “juice” that matters to both.

Now, the question. If the fact is that most jobs are found through mining personal relationships and, if the depth and significance of this particular economic downturn is more severe locally than nationally, and if the civic vitality is correlated with personal economic health – then what are three ideas that come to your mind related to this issue?