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Sunday, March 28, 2021

One out of ten Charlestown workers are unemployed

We need to get Charlestown back to work

By Will Collette

Charlestown’s prosperous appearance is a fa├žade, especially in the beach neighborhoods south of Route One. In fact Charlestown has been hit very hard by the Pandemic Recession and our recovery is stalled.

We showed some good signs last October, with joblessness falling to 6.3% but that was just a fluke. Now we’re back up again to 9.9% which is also the annualized average rate Charlestown suffered in 2020. It’s shocking to compare that to Charlestown’s 2019 average which only 4%.  

Statewide unemployment is currently at 7.3%. In Charlestown, it’s 9.9%. In addition to job losses in such traditional statewide employers as construction, services and manufacturing, the bottom fell out of our local tourism industry.

We’re not seeing any interest in addressing our serious joblessness problem from the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) that has ruled Charlestown for the past decade.

Their two biggest priorities at the moment are (1) buying properties at prices way above assessed value [for examples, click HERE and HERE] and (2) recruiting volunteers to pick up trash.

Last February, the CCA also made a big deal about working with RI-CAN, Charlestown’s main food pantry, to raise money for COVID relief. According to the CCA, they “raised almost $10,000.” And that’s fine until you compare it to the $13,050 the CCA raised for their 2020 election, collecting almost all of it in 30 days before the election.

Charity is good but jobs are better.

I think more effort needs to go into coming up with ways to help the 400 Charlestown households where an earner is looking for a job but can’t find one. There are no statistics available for how many of our neighbors have dropped out of the job market but we know they are there and need help, too.

If we are going into a third coronavirus wave, as our statistics suggest, no amount of Dan McKee small business boosterism is going to help.

But as I’ve said before, I think that Charlestown can help itself. Reminders of how to do that are scattered all over Charlestown in the work left behind by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Project Administration. Example: the stone bridge over the Pawcatuck on Route 91. There's a section on other such projects in the most recent newsletter from the Charlestown Historical Society.

We have an experienced Department of Public Works and we have lots of work that needs to be done around the town such as tending and improving accessibility to town owned public lands, carrying out projects either planned or delayed due to bids that were too high and yes, even picking up that roadside litter.

We have $400,000 budgeted for the much-needed make over of the Charlestown Animal Shelter (above), but all the bids we have received are at least $300,000 more. So let’s put that on the list.

We have budgets for planned as well as delayed projects, a healthy budget surplus plus Charlestown is currently slated to receive $780,000 through Joe Biden’s American Rescue plan to be used for pandemic recovery. We can also table the plans for bloated land deals, such as Tucker Estates.

Rather than pay almost three times the assessed value of that property to a Wakefield developer, we should redirect the $500,000 we would otherwise waste to putting Charlestown unemployed workers on the job on other town properties.

Many of Charlestown’s unemployed work construction – I’ll bet some have been forepersons on jobs – who can do the work.

Charlestown’s Department of Public Works and Department of Parks and Recreation have hired and managed part-time and seasonal workers before and no doubt will continue to do so.

So what I am suggesting is a concerted effort to do what we’ve done before (though on a larger scale), with the money we have, to do the work that needs to be done and do it with townsfolk who need a job.

You could call it the Charlestown Conservation and Construction Corps (CCCC). While we remain in the grips of the pandemic and its related recession, it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to really help our neighbors, and ourselves in the bargain.