Job market tied to social capital

The job market benefits from strong civic health, a new study says.

Communities with more nonprofits per capita and with strong civic connections or “social capital” have fared better in the recession and seen smaller increases in unemployment than communities with less dense concentrations of nonprofits and weaker civic ties, says Civic Health and Unemployment II, a report from the National Conference on Citizenship in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The 10 states with the most nonprofits per capita and the strongest social capital, for example, had jobless rates of 6.5 percent in 2010, compared to 10.8 percent in the states with lowest density of nonprofits and weakest social capita, says the report.

Based on research led by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, Civic Enterprises, and The Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University, the report builds on a 2011 report from the National Conference on Citizenship that found states and major metro areas with higher levels of civic engagement in 2006 experienced smaller increases in unemployment from 2006 to 2010.

“A secret weapon in America’s economic recovery can be found in the connections between and among citizens, and a strong nonprofit sector,” David B. Smith, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship, says in a statement.

“In cities and towns across the country, strong civic health is the bricks and mortar of a strong civic foundation,” he says.

Counties ranking in the top 10 percent of  nonprofit density in 2006 posted an increase of 2 percentage points in their unemployment rates between 2006 and 2009, compared to an increase of 5.1 percentage points for counties in the bottom 10 percent of nonprofit density during the same period.

A county with one additional nonprofit per 1,000 people in 2005 would have unemployment of half a percentage point less by 2009.

And an unemployed individual in 2008 was twice as likely to become unemployed if he or she lived in a community with few nonprofits rather than one with many nonprofits, even if the two communities otherwise were similar.

At the state level, the report says, stronger social cohesion within a community strongly predicted a smaller increase in the employment rate from 2006 to 2010.

In 2006, for example, states with high social cohesion and those with low social cohesion had unemployment rates of roughly 4.5 percent.

By 2010, however, states with strong social connections had an unemployment rate of 8 percent, compared with 10 percent for states with low social connections.

Three states — South Dakota, Maine and Nebraska — ranked in the top 10 when measured for nonprofit density, social cohesion, and a combination of the two.

Todd Cohen

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