Economic Multipliers (8)

Do you know what these are?

They help CREATE wealth in systems.

Access to services creates economic multipliers.

I am lucky. On this day (7/6/10), I did not worry about how my laundry would get done or whether I would have enough money to pay the water bill.

I chatted briefly this morning with a woman I don't know well ... she looked a bit stressed and because her car was filled with clothes, I asked if she was going on a trip. She had just come back from one ... one of her friends offered the use of her wash machine because hers had just broken down.

I didn't consider this anything unusual. I myself spent over a month recently doing hand laundry until a wash machine problem was resolved (the laundromat alternative seemed like too much of a hassle and we have clothelines). But a comment she made while chatting stood out: She said her friend lived in the country and the water was free.

The water rates in the community I live in have quadrupled (4x) in the last few years. The increase in water bills (for some families) would cover the cost of a new wash machine every year. Not only that, if this woman has an older machine, she is 'overusing' water – water and $ down the drain – for her.

I'm hoping her wash machine is either fixed or replaced soon. I'm sure I'll run into her again and will ask.

But I thought it would be 'worthy' to note a couple things: the water in the country is not FREE. In the United States, a well can cost anywhere from $5000 to over $100,000 to install. Pumps and pressure tanks, water softener units and salt (the area has hard water) and water heaters all cost money to buy, install and run and they do not last forever. 'Country' water many times must be tested to make sure it's potable (drinkable) and that costs money too.

People who take advantage of municipal services pay for the fixed costs over a period of time. When a pump goes out in the country or a well goes bad, if the owner hasn't been setting aside money for items which require maintenance and have specific replacement costs, they can easily find themselves without water. That does not sound FREE to me.

The conversation struck another cord because years ago a Chicago School District employee told me that they rewarded kids and parents in their district with laundry vouchers. Many parents couldn't afford washers and dryers and didn't have enough money for laundromats.

I thought I'd call the new Boys and Girls Club which was recently built and ask if they had set up a laundromat for kids whose parents were financially stressed. They haven't done this yet because it hasn't shown up as a 'need' in this community. But I'll bet it is.

Some schools offer laundry services as part of the educational experience. If I was setting up a community – based laundry program, I'd take advantage of existing laundromats and issue vouchers. If the community was going to set up publicly available facilities (as part of YMCAs or YWCAs or community centers or schools or even local nursing homes – they already have facilities), I'd want them to make sure they understood the costs and knew how to generate REVENUE sources to cover any costs (such as $1.00 donations for vouchers when people were grocery shopping).

The bottom line though in all of this is there are a LOT of daily expenses that many people have difficulty paying. When people have difficulty paying ANY of them, they cannot afford to do things like buy a new wash machine which might save so much money through reduced water and energy use in one year that a machine which should last more than 10 years will literally pay for itself in one year.

And, when they're chasing down resources to get basic daily tasks taken care of, they don't have the time to be doing something which might create greater longterm value – for both them AND society.