By Congressional Representatives Ed Royce and Mark Pocan
This op-ed was originally published on The Hill.
At a time when the American economy is recovering from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the ugly truth is that we’re experiencing a persistent hurdle to spreading economic opportunity in the most impoverished communities across our country. As co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus (CCBC), we firmly believe that there is one tool that has proven time and time again to be an effective resource in providing for economic growth for all: cooperatives, or co-ops for short.
It is important to note that the cooperative business model has largely been successful in today’s economy. Co-ops continue to break the traditional mold for how successful businesses are organized and function. While most people recognize credit unions, rural electric providers, and large national consumer brands like Nationwide Insurance, Organic Valley, or REI, local cooperatives are also having a profound impact on their communities. From housing cooperatives that provide affordable housing in California, or food cooperatives that provide family farmers a marketplace for their produce in Wisconsin, cooperatives by nature enable people to work together to achieve economic sustainability.
Throughout its history, the cooperative movement has empowered working Americans by creating platforms on which underserved communities stood and worked together to rise up and provide for themselves. Today, cooperatives remain a powerful resource, but often don’t have a seat at the table when lawmakers and the private sector talk about policies that will grow our economy. The cooperative movement evolves and adapts with every new socioeconomic challenge our country faces and it’s time we start harnessing it for good.
In fact, the economic volatility of the Great Recession provided the cooperative movement with an opportunity to step in and help American workers. Worker cooperatives, or companies and organizations that are owned by the very same people they employ, are an emerging trend helping municipalities spur job growth. Local governments have figured out that if they help develop worker cooperatives, jobs created in their community stay in their community and the profits can be reinvested locally. That means resources for infrastructure projects, schools, libraries, and hospitals. This sense of ownership is a key principle in the cooperative model that is resonating with all levels of community leadership.
Congress is currently evaluating a variety of strategies to combat poverty across the country. One plan that both parties are looking into is the so-called 10-20-30 approach that would provide 10 percent of federal discretionary spending to communities where at least 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for the past 30 years. Targeted funding could help local municipalities spur economic growth, especially if some of that funding is committed to cooperative business development.
Ending poverty is a tall order, and it won’t happen overnight. However, with the commitment of Congress and local governments, we can take steps towards eliminating economic hardships by allowing for the development of cooperative businesses that pave the way for our nation’s most disadvantaged communities to rise up.
Rep. Royce represents California’s 39th Congressional District and Rep. Pocan represents Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District. Both are co-chairs of the newly-formed Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus.