As hard economic times get harder, many Americans turn to helping each other.
Washington DC – Joblessness has increased to 9.2 percent, according to data released this morning by the Labor Department. But a new strategy has emerged to adapt to unemployment and hard economic times: groups of people helping each other. Many Americans are choosing to form “Resilience Circles,” also called “Common Security Clubs,” which are groups of 10-20 people who bond together to increase their personal security. Groups are focused on joint learning, mutual aid, and social action, with members often providing valuable assistance to one another in times of need. Resilience Circles are meeting in over 25 cities across the United States, and people in dozens of other cities are forming groups. Free online tools and guides are available through the Resilience Circle Network, supported in part by the Institute for Policy Studies.
“As our economy continues to decline, Resilience Circles are one way people can support each other and take action for a more just future,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Inequality and the Common Good program at the Institute for Policy Studies. “The dominant messages in the U.S. economy are ‘you are on your own’ and ‘some people are going to be left behind.’ Countering this isn’t easy. For many, talking about their economic anxiety and asking for help is difficult and shaming. But to survive the coming period of uncertainty, we must regain use of our mutual aid muscles, many of which have atrophied from lack of use.”
“We’re in this together,” said Sarah Byrnes, coordinator of the Resilience Circle Network. “We are not going back to a model of economic growth based on debt, over-consumption and cheap energy. We have to prepare ourselves and our communities for change.”
Members of Resilience Circles help each other in a variety of ways. They try out new business ventures, barter skills and learn new skills, brainstorm job opportunities and networking possibilities, and share tips for saving money. In Fort Lauderdale, FL, an elderly couple offered their in-law apartment to a father and son who were in financial distress. In South Paris, ME, group members used a collective “emergency jar” for their spare change. “The money didn’t get used very often,” said group member Connie Allen, “but much like the group itself, it provided a sense of security just in knowing it was there.”
Many Resilience Circles also provide support for those who may be out of work, crucial at a time when the unemployment rate is increasing. Data from the Department of Labor shows that employers added only 18,000 new jobs in June, far less than the 125,000 to 150,000 needed to absorb new entrants into the labor force.
“These are hard times for a lot of people the country,” said Wendee Crofoot, 42, who is unemployed in Mountainview, CA. Before she was laid off, Crofoot was an office and development manager for a local community organization. “My Resilience Circle makes me feel like I have a network of people who I can rely on,” she said.
Crofoot was laid off in late May. When she lost her job, she turned to members of her Resilience Circle for support. The group has created a “time bank” to exchange time, skills, and goods.
“I’m still devastated that I lost my job,” said Crofoot. “But I’m so delighted to be connected to the people in my circle. My connections with them are helping me feel more hopeful about the future.”
Cities that have their own Resilience Circle include: Boston, Jamaica Plain; Boston, Roslindale; Corvalis, OR; Austin, TX; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; Detroit, MI; Ann Arbor, MI; Columbus, OH; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Redwood City, CA; Newburyport, MA; Bainbridge Island, WA; Seattle, WA; Portland, ME; Boulder, CO; Denver, CO; Baltimore, MD; Washington, DC; Concord, NH; South Paris, ME; Greenville, MA; Manchester, NH; Sanford, VT; Bellingham, WA; Milford, MA; Hobart, IN; Palo Alto, CA; Asheville, NC; Marlborough, MA.
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Institute for Policy Studies (www.ips-dc.org) is a community of public scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the U.S. and globally. We work with social movements to promote true democracy and challenge concentrated wealth, corporate influence, and military power.
For more information on Resilience Circles, visit http://localcircles.org/