NEW YORK — Carmen Barbosa used to work in a Bronx factory stitching bathrobes designed by Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers for $8 an hour. The factory closed five years ago. Now Barbosa teaches a knitting class at a recreation center in Washington Heights on Friday mornings from 10 until noon, for which she receives two time credits per class. She has more than 650 hours logged in her time bank account.
Time banks are organizations that treat time as a currency; in place of money, members earn, accumulate and spend time credits. These banks have been around since the 1980s, but they have become more popular since the start of the recession in 2008. There are now more than 300 time banks in the U.S, located everywhere from Appalachia to Oakland, and run by institutions ranging from art galleries to retirement centers to hospitals. Time banking is also flourishing online, with websites attempting to adapt an old-fashioned idea of neighborly favors for a digital generation. “There’s a lot of unemployed folks and a lot of need, and if there was ever a time that this makes sense, it would be now,” says Edgar Cahn, a 78-year-old former staffer in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the founder of time banking.