Employment solutions: Can a town’s good deeds lower unemployment?
The dollars and cents of good deeds: Communities with high social capital tend to have lower unemployment. Some seeking employment solutions see this altruistic glue as something to study.
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"All the local altruistic acts in the world aren't going to save a community if, let's say, an entire industry shuts down, where everyone's losing their job," Sampson says. "But there are still these buffers that are incredibly important, and they are taking care of people's health – their mental health and their well-being."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The altruistic glue holding a community together
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A county in contrast
Like many other places, Chatham County, which sits right in the middle of North Carolina, has had its share of pain. Many of the 65,000 people who live here commute to professional jobs in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro. But for years, the county has been losing manufacturing and agricultural jobs, two mainstays of the traditional Southern economy. During the recession, three local chicken-processing plants closed shop, taking with them close to 2,000 jobs. In January, the largest restaurant in Pittsboro went bankrupt.
The area would have a harder time absorbing these blows without neighbors helping each other, says Charlie Horne, the Chatham County manager, "because there would be a lot more demand for services that we can and can't provide. Community organizations are filling in those gaps. People helping themselves are a lot less likely to go and try to burden whatever service government has if they've got another support group."
Mr. Horne himself has gotten into the act. He's lending his bull to a neighbor, a chicken farmer who lost his contract when the chicken-processing plants closed and is now building up his cattle herd instead.
Sometimes, neighborliness is the only thing that keeps a business afloat.
That's how it is for Kellee Metty. She and her husband own a building and remodeling company in northern Chatham County. They went from selling seven houses in 2007 to selling one in 2008. They have four kids, two in college and two getting married. Ms. Metty says making ends meet has been a real juggling act.
"All of our work, pretty much, comes from referrals," she says. "That's all been from neighbors," people who live in the subdivision she and her husband developed. Before the recession, they sold the houses they built the conventional way, through real estate agents and the Multiple Listing Service. "Just in a tangible, practical way, if we had not had those referrals we would have been out of business by now, for sure."
Besides that, Metty adds, there's the emotional and spiritual sustenance she gets from such kindness. Take her daughter's wedding. It was supposed to be catered by the restaurant in Pittsboro that went bankrupt. Metty lost her deposit and found herself in a quandary.
"So immediately everyone jumped into action – not just my neighborhood, but my church family as well," she says. "Everyone said, 'We'll just do what we need to do. We'll just gather the women at your house at noon on Saturday and put the food together.' "
When it comes to the number of organizations per capita here, Chatham County might be at the top of the nation's list. And much of the activity affects the local economy. On just one page of the weekly newspaper, you can read about the food drive at a local gym, a coupon exchange at the library, a workshop for job seekers, and a fundraiser for a local mentoring organization. In one day on the Chatham Chatlist – which is run by a volunteer – you see notices about the local farmers' market, a fundraiser at the local senior center, and an ad hoc meeting at the Pittsboro Town Hall aimed at attracting business downtown.
Lesley Landis, a local graphic designer, thinks part of the reason there's so much involvement is that, for many years, the community had to rely on itself – and the practice stuck. "For so long, Pittsboro and Chatham County were somewhat isolated between these huge metro areas," she says. "We don't have a lot of corporate infrastructure. So we were required to be somewhat self-sufficient."
The numbers here are relatively good. Besides having an unemployment rate below the state average, the county has grown by almost 29 percent since 2000, compared with the state growth rate of 18.5 percent.