In the report, “Jobs and More Jobs: The Economic Impact of Community Organizing,” Gamaliel community organizers add up $13 billion worth of public and private programs that faith, community, and labor leaders worked to create or save through their advocacy efforts in 2012-13, employing nearly 460,000 people.
Using commonly accepted economic formulas to measure the direct and indirect impact of these workers on the economy, Gamaliel estimated that these workers generated $17.2 billion in GDP over two years. “Community Organizing as Job Creator“ was one of the first studies to quantify the effect of organizing in 2012.
That’s quite a few early childhood educators, bus drivers, construction workers, and even cashiers and stockers at supermarkets that advocates helped to establish in urban areas as a response to food deserts. In turn, these employed individuals generated dollars that helped their community's bottom line.
The programs that groups won fell into five distinct categories: Education, Food Justice, Infrastructure, Job Training and Transit. The groups that won the victories in 2012-13 were spread across the country from the East Coast to Hawaii, and those victories ranged from supporting a ballot initiative in Michigan to pay for public transportation to support for a project labor agreement that helped minority and women workers in Illinois.
The economic impact, significant as it is, matters less in the long term than the moral imperative to create jobs, say leaders of the Gamaliel organizing network.
Brian Osei, a case manager and community organizer with Project Return, a Milwaukee agency that helps men and women leaving prison make a positive and permanent return to our community, says providing access to jobs for people who were incarcerated creates a blessed circle in which the employed people benefit from working and in turn raise up their community.
“It is important on so many levels to have a job,” Osei says. “I can guarantee that the more people have jobs, the more crime will go down. You’re helping the individual put money back into the community and in some cases you may even be saving lives by putting money in this individual’s pocket the right way instead of through selling drugs or other illegal activities.”
One reason community organizers have had success at creating and preserving jobs is that they can spot the red tape and strategize with experts on the ground about how to cut through it.
Pastor Norma Patterson of Good Shepherd of Faith UCC church and other leaders of United Congregations of Metro East in East St. Louis got tired of hearing that area employers would like to hire people from the community if only they could find candidates who were “job ready.”
To counter that attitude, Patterson and her group organized a group they called 100 Ready Workers—certified and qualified individuals actively seeking employment in construction and other fields. Several of these ready workers began meeting weekly to strategize and discuss their search, and by comparing notes realized that several could start their own firms if they had access to credit.
Patterson and the group ended up working with the state transportation department to create a revolving loan fund for minority owned firms, and one of their number, Ed Slack, started a firm that is now building ramps on state highways near Effingham, Ill. Slack in turn has been able to hire five others off the “100 Ready Workers” list.
Policy and funding victories also have to be monitored. “Jobs and More Jobs” recommends additional governmental transparency, which will help equip community organizers with facts and figures. Experienced organizers like Osei and Pastor Patterson know that their work hasn't ended when the governor or mayor signs the bill—on the contrary, it's just begun.
(Image credit: Gamaliel)