The Ithaca HOUR is a local currency used in Ithaca, New York and is the oldest and largest local currency system in the United States that is still in operation. The basic premise of the Ithaca HOURS is that one Ithaca HOUR is valued at $10 US dollars, which is the average wage of the region, and is used to trade for one hour’s work of another.
The idea is that one person’s time is as valuable as anyone else’s, so an HOUR can be exchanged for an hour’s work, whether that work is farm labor or dentistry. There’s nothing to prevent professionals from charging several HOURS per hour, of course, and a babysitter might accept a quarter-HOUR per hour. But HOURS are a leveling force, raising the minimum wage, allowing people to buy things they couldn’t afford before, and stimulating everyone’s business.
The use of local currencies, such as the Ithaca HOURS, keeps services and payments local. Local businesses are more likely to accept the HOURS as compared to large big-box chain stores and restaurants. Users of the HOURS patronize more local businesses and stimulate the local economy and keep local financial resources within the local area.
More than 1,200 individuals and businesses in Ithaca, New York, will accept the HOURS and include services such as bookkeeping, roofing, tax preparation, bowling, legal services, business consulting, cake decorating, camera repair, electrician services, car repair, movie theater tickets, childcare, and a variety of food from local restaurants. Movie theaters, locally owned grocery stores, farmers markets, and quite a few landlords also accept HOURS. In fact, a local electronics store has computers in the window priced at 50, 68, and 90 HOURS.
Although many individuals and business accept HOURS for the full price of an item or service, the majority like to combine the HOURS with US dollars so they can still pay their overhead and bills (such as utilities) to companies that do not accept HOURS as legal tender.
As with any currency system, protection against counterfeits is essential to ensuring inflation does not undervalue the worth of the HOUR. The Ithaca HOURS use special handmade paper and two of the notes use thermal ink which disappears briefly when touched or photocopied. In addition, the Tompkins Count District Attorney has said that counterfeiting HOURS would be forgery of a financial instrument, punishable by up to 7 years in jail.