Real Jobs for Real People in the Informal Economy

Citizen Wealth

Informal economy

New Orleans I argued yesterday that as important as “new” industries and mass employers are in finding real employment for millions, that the days when headlines of General Motors hiring 4000 workers are going to be few and far between.  What we need is localized informal workshops, training, production, marketing, and sales that can provide dignified, remunerative work for millions.  I for one am rethinking part of the Gandhian paradigm of trying to find “village” and home-based “industries that can produce livelihoods.

I’m not saying I have the answers here, but I’m clear that we need to start thinking in some additional dimensions that are based on hitting millions of scratch singles rather than the occasional homerun.  Here are some examples of good work that would provide real products and benefits:

  • Yard Work:  Seasonal, but ….
  • Home Repair and Rehab:  Easy to train and supervise and at the right price point, everybody needs it.
  • Food Production:  New Orleans, Detroit, and hundreds of other cities have the space without the skills for urban farmers.
  • Bio-diesel Production and Distribution:  Pick it up at restaurants, make it happen on small investment, and market widely.
  • Household Furniture:   In India and Kenya this is a road side “industry,” but the demand for serviceable, reasonable, household furniture is universal.  I could use a couple of big bookcases right now.
  • Repair Centers:   Once again this is a lesson from the rest of the world where repair trumps replacement and is accessible with basic training and supervision.
  • House Painting:   Inside in winter, outside the rest of the year.
  • Hauling:  It’s happening everywhere now, but there isn’t an efficient “dispatch” or distribution system for the work, which plagues many of these mass-employer.
  • Ride-shares or jitney trips
  • Recycling and small scale “green” work
  • Technical assistants and repair for computers and how to use them.

We need to reckon with a permanent pool of workers in an informal economy.   Many of the former trades’ people hired by Home Depot and Loews need to be hired by city and manpower agencies.  We need to convert social networking to jobs information, dispatch, and distribution as well as things like

We would need to adapt public and private “micro-lending” to these kinds of domestic informal industries.

We would also need to reckon with a different way of understanding “social security” payments and health provision for workers in this kind of economy (see the “Maharashtra Model” in current Social Policy magazine.

We would need to be willing to look at work and workers differently.

Maybe we ought to look at work that is on the other side of the law now and is killing our communities, and making it all street legal so that the workforce involved also is formalized, but that’s a longer subject for another time.

I need to do some back of the envelope math on how many jobs might be produced on small scale, home and community based efforts, but for now though I could be wrong about everything I’m saying there, I am clearly correct that we simply must change the paradigm for how we think about mobs and employment for the mass of workers who have no work in today’s economy.