SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
In Spain, a parallel economy has sprung up amid high unemployment and insecurity over the euro's future. Some Spaniards have created time banks, in which workers earn hours, instead of money, and then barter those hours for other services. In this system, everyone's time is equal, whether a lawyer's or a janitor's. Lauren Frayer visited participants in one time bank in Madrid, and filed this report.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Lola Sanchez plays with her teenage son, Jose Antonio, who has cerebral palsy. After saving money for years, Sanchez was finally able to buy a car refitted with a ramp and space in the back for a wheelchair.
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FRAYER: Sanchez operates the wheelchair ramp alone now. A nurse used to come each day to help with her son's care, but that service was cut amid government austerity measures, though Sanchez still gets a small check every month.
LOLA SANCHEZ: (Through Translator) But what I need is physical help - even more than financial assistance - because I can't physically lift him on my own.
FRAYER: So, earlier this year, Sanchez joined a local time bank. It sends members to help with her son's care. But she doesn't pay them. Instead, she reciprocates by using her handicapped-friendly car to transport other disabled people in her community. With Spanish unemployment near 25 percent, many people have more time than money to spend. And in the past two years, the number of time banks in Spain has doubled, to nearly 300. Most have anywhere from 50 to 400 members, and some even print their own currency. Most of all, they stress equality, Sanchez says.
SANCHEZ: (Through Translator) For me, it's good to know that my time has the same value as anyone else's. There's no difference between one hour of work for a computer specialist or for a cleaning woman.
FRAYER: Time banks originated in 19th-century America and Europe among socialists who emphasized the direct link between their labor and what they could get for it. But nowadays most time banks operate online. You register for a profile, sort of like a Facebook page, that lists your work skills, and then lists the tasks you're looking for someone else to do for you.
JOSE LUIS HERRANZ: Whatever you can imagine. You can fix a car, or paint a wall, or cook some food or even clean the windows.
FRAYER: Jose Luis Herranz helped start the time bank Sanchez belongs to in Madrid late last year. The 27-year-old monitors the barter of services among members and logs their hours online. About a third of the members are unemployed. Amid constant government cutbacks, Herranz says the time bank gives people much-needed work, and also a sense of purpose.
HERRANZ: We have to trust each other, to create solidarity networks, and we feel we are alone and we have to help each other.
FRAYER: Julio Gisbert is a conventional banker, but spends his spare time as a consultant to time banks across Spain. He helps them avoid charges of tax evasion because people are working, but not for money, and so they pay no income tax.
JULIO GISBERT: (Through Translator) One of the rules is that the services exchanged can't be continuous and indefinite. Imagine you're a time banker who teaches English, and someone wants classes every week. In theory, the time bank can't do that because an English language academy can come along and denounce you. They're paying tax and their professors, and you're not.
FRAYER: So, the services must be sporadic to be legal. That doesn't stop some time bankers from working 20 hours a week, in a variety of odd jobs. Gisbert says time banks are especially useful in Spain, where traditionally close family ties have been fractured by urbanization in the past generation and now, by unemployment.
GISBERT: (Through Translator) It's a question of reconstructing the sense of community that used to exist in Spanish villages in the old days, which doesn't exist here in the city. (Spanish spoken)
FRAYER: Back inside his neighborhood association office in Madrid, Jose Luis Herranz, the time bank organizer, is getting his 55-year-old mother Maribel involved.
MARIBEL HERRANZ: (Spanish spoken)
FRAYER: I was born here in this neighborhood, and, wow, how things have changed, she says. A housewife all her life, Maribel is working outside the home for the first time, side-by-side with younger neighbors who've been laid off from their jobs. She gives cooking lessons and does elderly residents' grocery shopping for them. The neighborhood's jobless rate is still at an all-time high at more than 30 percent. But through their time bank, these neighbors have found a way to be productive. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.
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