The Hidden Economy of Communityby Golda Velez on Jul. 10, 2011, under Community
Arizona’s economy is in a slump, no question about that. Hard cash buys the necessities of life, and we’re coming up short.
I don’t want to argue that traditional economic measures – 9.1% unemployment, rank of 49th in per-pupil spending – are unimportant. However, I would argue that a significant sector of our economy is not being measured, a sector in which Tucson is particularly strong.
When a doctor willingly cuts a full time practice in half to volunteer at her daughter’s school, that value is not measured. When a group of friends supports a member with a medical issue – not casually, but by setting up a schedule for meals and child care, with coordinators who see that its is filled – that value is not measured. When an all-volunteer community swim team holds weekly meets involving over 100 kids, with races organized down to the minute and detailed scorekeeping, that value is not measured.
Yet, if the doctor mother simply continued her full-time practice, the additional 80K she earns would be counted. If the ill friend hired a crew of home health professionals for her care, the thousands she would have to spend would be measured in economic indicators. And if the community swim meet were instead run by an exclusive country club, the cost to pay all the coaches, scorekeepers, helpers and cooks would be measured and counted in the ‘economic output of the Tucson area’, or our local GDP.
Tucson’s GDP was considered to be $29.1M in 2009, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). It would seem to me that our community gardens, local theatre productions, school volunteers, community-run preschools, neighborhood associations add a significant amount to that number. The swim meets, gardens, tutor-hours, shows and events have real economic value to the participants. Maybe it can be measured by the time people spend; maybe by the replacement cost if the same result had to be created by paid contractors. Maybe its just as well not to measure it – what’s not measured isn’t taxed. We know its there, though.
Tucson is rich in community, and our treasure is for real.
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Golda Velez also runs a community blog at bTucson.com