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Title: Social Capital and Concerns Facing Lower Income Young Adults in the Brainerd Lakes Area


Abstract: This report summarizes the results of a project aimed at understanding social and economic problems facing lower income younger adults in Crow Wing County, Minnesota and to better integrate this population into the broader community by building social capital and community engagement. The report is intended to inform community foundations and community groups working in the local area about issues that should be addressed and about potential opportunities for better integrating the lower income younger adult population into social, economic, and community life. In addition, the report aims to share struggles that lower income younger adults face with the broader local community and to publicize ideas that participants have for bettering their community. The substantive results of the project will be most interesting to a local audience or to anyone interested in socio-economic issues facing lower income adults under age 35, particularly in more rural areas and/or areas with a significant tourism economy. Researchers and community groups interested in engaging younger adults in community-building processes will benefit from methodological discussion about soliciting input at community events and gaining participation from younger adults in community meetings. Finally, the research process and the layout of the product might serve as a template for others engaging in participatory research.


Type of Product: PDF document


Year Created: 2008


Date Published: 11/10/2009

Author Information

Corresponding Author
Richelle Winkler
University of Wisconsin- Madison
308B Ag Hall
1450 Linden Dr.
Madison, WI 53578
United States
p: 608-262-1216
rwinkler@ssc.wisc.edu

Authors (listed in order of authorship):
Kathryne Rhode
Minnesota Legal Service
Brainerd MN 53578


Mike Burton
Central Minnesota Community Foundation
Brainerd MN 53578
United States
MBurton@communitygiving.org


Product Description and Application Narrative Submitted by Corresponding Author

What general topics does your product address?

Social & Behavioral Sciences, Social Work


What specific topics does your product address?

Community engagement, Community organizing, Education, Employment, Health disparities, Housing, Leadership development , Poverty, Social determinants of health, Social services, Community-based participatory research


Does your product focus on a specific population(s)?

Rural


What methodological approaches were used in the development of your product, or are discussed in your product?

Case study , Community-academic partnership, Community-based participatory research , Focus group , Qualitative research, Quantitative research, Survey, Interview, Participant observation


What resource type(s) best describe(s) your product?

Case study, Policy brief


Application Narrative

1. Please provide a 1600 character abstract describing your product, its intended use and the audiences for which it would be appropriate.*

This report summarizes the results of a project aimed at understanding social and economic problems facing lower income younger adults in Crow Wing County, Minnesota and to better integrate this population into the broader community by building social capital and community engagement. The report is intended to inform community foundations and community groups working in the local area about issues that should be addressed and about potential opportunities for better integrating the lower income younger adult population into social, economic, and community life. In addition, the report aims to share struggles that lower income younger adults face with the broader local community and to publicize ideas that participants have for bettering their community. The substantive results of the project will be most interesting to a local audience or to anyone interested in socio-economic issues facing lower income adults under age 35, particularly in more rural areas and/or areas with a significant tourism economy. Researchers and community groups interested in engaging younger adults in community-building processes will benefit from methodological discussion about soliciting input at community events and gaining participation from younger adults in community meetings. Finally, the research process and the layout of the product might serve as a template for others engaging in participatory research.


2. What are the goals of the product?

This report was written with four primary goals: (1) to inform local audiences about struggles facing lower income younger adults; (2) to share ideas that lower income younger adults have for ways in which they can work together with a broad group of community actors to facilitate positive change in their community; (3) to promote action toward addressing important social and economic issues that lower income younger adults face; and (4) to promote meaningful inclusion of lower income people and younger adults in community groups and civic engagement. As a secondary goal, this product also seeks to promote broad attention among researchers and community groups everywhere to the younger adult population, their socio-economic circumstances, and their integration into community life. Despite the fact that younger adults in the United States are the most likely age group to face poverty (18-24 year olds are even more likely than children under age 5to be in poverty and 25-34 year olds are more likely to face poverty than adults at older ages, even the elderly); anti-poverty initiatives tend to be directed toward children or the elderly with little attention to the young adult population. At the same time, community organizations often dismiss young adults as too difficult to engage. For instance, researchers involved with the Saguaro Seminar argue that “the practice of taking young people seriously has not yet become standard operating procedure in schools, community organizations, or politics. Instead, the scattered efforts of visionaries who see young people as resources have run up against the assumption, valid or not, that young people are too cynical, materialistic, and apathetic to want to make a difference, or the misperception that young people are too inexperienced, uninformed or unwise to be consulted on issues affecting them” (Putnam and Feldstein, 2000, p. 5). This report offers an example of engaging lower income and younger adults in identifying and addressing community concerns.


3. Who are the intended audiences or expected users of the product?

This report should be of interest to anyone interested in socio-economic issues facing lower income adults under age 35, particularly in more rural areas and/or areas that are tourism destinations. In addition, researchers and community members engaging lower income people and/or younger adults in participatory projects may find the research process used here informative for their own efforts.


4. Please provide any special instructions for successful use of the product, if necessary. If your product has been previously published, please provide the appropriate citation below.

None


5. Please describe how your product or the project that resulted in the product builds on a relevant field, discipline or prior work. You may cite the literature and provide a bibliography in the next question if appropriate.

This project was developed in response to national and local findings that young adults and lower income people have lower levels of social capital than the general population (Putnam and Feldstein; Levine) and findings that adults under age 35 are facing declines in relative income and job opportunities (Sum and Khatiwada). The project builds on work conducted on social capital in the fields of sociology and political science and on research examining changes in the socio-economic status of young adults. Recognizing that lower income people and younger adults may be excluded from positive social capital experiences, the project seeks to better integrate this population into community life by engaging them in an inclusionary process and promoting issues that they are concerned about.

Social capital has been positively associated with numerous individual and community level markers of well-being, including life expectancy, educational attainment, income, productivity, happiness, reduced crime, and more responsive government (Putnam and Feldstein). At the same time, social capital may produce and reproduce social inequalities as some people have the “right” social connections that offer them benefits, while others have few social connections or the “wrong” social connections that may neither affect them positively or negatively, keep them out of the “right” social circles, provide negative peer influences, and/or negatively impact reputations (Bourdieu). Similarly, Portes argues that social capital can have negative, as well as positive, consequences that include: excluding outsiders, demanding too much from group members, restricting individual freedom, and negatively influencing peers. In particular, research has demonstrated that younger adults and lower income people across the United States have particularly low levels of social capital and civic engagement (Putnam and Feldstein; Levine) and that the social capital class gap among youth has been increasing (Flanagan, Levine, and Settersten). In Crow Wing County, a social capital survey undertaken by a local community group found that while social capital was generally high among community residents, it was considerably lower amongst lower income people and younger adults.

Methodologically, the framework for the CBPR approach used in this project generally follows that advocated by Stoecker.


6. Please provide a bibliography for work cited above or in other parts of this application. Provide full references, in the order sited in the text (i.e. according to number order). .

Batt, Rosemary, Larry Hunter, and Steffanie Wilk. 2003. How and When Does Management Matter? Job Quality and Career Opportunities for Call Center Workers. In Eileen Appelbaum, Annette Bernhardt, and Richard Murnane, eds., Low Wage America: How Employers are Reshaping Opportunity in the Workplace. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Brown, Juanita, David Isaacs, and Peter Senge. 2005. World Café: Shaping our Futures through Conversations that Matter. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. www.theworldcafe.com

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. The forms of capital. In John G. Richardson, ed., Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood Press.

Draut, Tamara. 2008. Economic State of Young America. New York: Demos. http://www.demos.org/pubs/esya_web.pdf

Flanagan, Constance, Peter Levine, and Richard Settersten. 2009. Civic Engagement and the Changing Transition to Adulthood. CIRCLE (Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement).

Hammer, Roger B. and Richelle Winkler. 2006. Housing Affordability in the North Woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. In W. A. Kandel and David L. Brown, eds., Population Change and Rural Society. The Netherlands: Springer.

Hettinger, William S. 2005. Living and Working in Paradise: Why Housing is too Expensive and What Communities can do about it. Windham, CT: Thames River Publishing.

Levine, Peter. 2007. The Future of Democracy: Developing the Next Generation of American Citizens. Tufts University Press, University Press of New England.

Oldenburg, Ray. 1989. The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day. New York: Paragon House.

Oldenburg, Ray. 2000. Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories about the "Great Good Places" at the Heart of Our Communities. New York: Marlowe & Company.

Portes, A. (1998). Social Capital: its origins and applications in modern sociology. Annual Review of Sociology. 24: 1-24.

Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Putnam, Robert D. and Lewis Feldstein. 2003. Better Together: Restoring the American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Reeder, Richard J. and Dennis M. Brown. 2005. Recreation, Tourism, and Rural Well-Being. Economic Research Report No. (ERR-7). http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/err7/

Saguaro Seminar. 2007. http://www.hks.harvard.edu/saguaro/primer.htm

Stoecker, Randy. 2005. Research Methods for Community Change. Sage Publications.

Sum, Andrew and Ishwar Khatiwada. 2005. The Age Twist in Employment Rates, 2000-2004. Challenge 48 (4): 51-68.


7. Please describe the project or body of work from which the submitted product developed. Describe the ways that community and academic/institutional expertise contributed to the project. Pay particular attention to demonstrating the quality or rigor of the work:

  • For research-related work, describe (if relevant) study aims, design, sample, measurement instruments, and analysis and interpretation. Discuss how you verified the accuracy of your data.
  • For education-related work, describe (if relevant) any needs assessment conducted, learning objectives, educational strategies incorporated, and evaluation of learning.
  • For other types of work, discuss how the project was developed and reasons for the methodological choices made.

This project is the result of collaboration between a group of community leaders who organized around the idea of promoting social capital in the Brainerd Lakes area and a graduate student researcher at the University of Wisconsin- Madison who worked on this project as a part of the requirements for completing her PhD in Sociology. Together, these participants decided on the following goals for the research project, agreed upon the methods presented here, and are continuing to interpret and apply the results.

The study aims to better understand barriers that keep lower income younger adults (age 18-30) from being more integrated into social and economic life and to work with and empower these residents to address these constraints and achieve more meaningful inclusion in economic and community life. The idea is to offer an inclusionary process through which excluded residents are invited in, listened to, encouraged toward more involvement, and connected with more advantaged community members to bridge social capital.

The study involved hosting two sets of community meetings for lower income people and younger adults and conducting brief surveys of this population at popular community events. Participants were recruited to engage in the process through advertisements in local newspapers, online community calendars, flyers placed multiple locations, social services agencies, large local employers, the community college, and through personal contacts. In addition, booths at two community festivals advertised the project. To encourage participation, we offered a free meal and childcare available on site. In addition, participants were offered opportunities to enter a drawing to win prizes, including: a 32” Sony flat screen television, $50 gas cards, or $50 grocery gift certificates.

The first set of meetings followed a World Café format whereby participants were actively engaged to discuss responses to specific questions in small groups and record responses. These meetings focused on identifying issues and constraints that lower income younger adults face in their everyday lives and to offer these residents a space to have their voices heard. Surveys asking the same questions were conducted at two community festivals. The primary researcher then coded these data and grouped them into themes for further discussion. Finally, a second set of strategic planning meetings were held where participants evaluated the relative importance of identified issues, checking the researcher’s interpretations. They also identified assets and ideas for how the group might start to address the most important problems discussed. In total, 72 younger adults participated.

At the conclusion, the university-based researcher analyzed data gathered at these community meetings and triangulated them with additional qualitative data gathered using semi-structured and open ended interviews, participant observation living and working in the community for five months, and review of relevant literature. Results were then presented, discussed, and interpreted collaboratively at a meeting of community leaders and organizers sponsored by a local community foundation. This group plans to implement the information learned through this project into action plans for community development and is continuing to meet to discuss potential projects and to encourage participation of lower income younger adults.


8. Please describe the process of developing the product, including the ways that community and academic/institutional expertise were integrated in the development of this product.

The product is a summary report written by the university-based researcher to summarize the results of the project to the community partners and to the broader local community. As such, the product integrates academic expertise with community voice. This blended voice is most prominent in the narrative on pages 17-20, where the academic researcher reports community sentiments using participants’ words. Throughout the product, community expertise is integrated in the form of information and ideas that participants shared at community meetings and in questionnaires. In addition, community participants were provided with a summary of this report in a draft form and given opportunity to reflect on, comment on, and suggest changes.


9. Please discuss the significance and impact of your product. In your response, discuss ways your product has added to existing knowledge and benefited the community; ways others may have utilized your product; and any relevant evaluation data about impact, if available. If the impact of the product is not yet known, discuss its potential significance.

Collaborators specifically designed this project to integrate a population group that is often left out of community leadership and decision-making into engaging with community partners on matters of interest to them and to the health of the broader community. The product is a summary report that shares lower income younger adults’ feelings, concerns, and ideas related to community health with influential community leaders and the broader community. This product is being used by the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation, the Initiative Foundation, the Coalition to End Poverty in Crow Wing County, and other local leaders and service providers to encourage participation of lower income younger adults in community endeavors and in planning community projects (intervention strategies) to boost social capital amongst this group and to address identified concerns. Additionally, the product is being used to report to the broader community about economic and social challenges faced by lower income younger adults, through articles in the local newspaper (the editor of the local newspaper is one of the community collaborators).

Overall, important outcomes of this project include impacts on individual participants in addition to community level impacts whereby the information is being used to inform and community action. For example, one participant explained at the conclusion of the project that “this was the first time I felt I was really being listened to and that there was a real opportunity for me to get involved, that people respected and cared about what I had to say, even though I am a young person.”

Finally, ongoing work by community partners is keeping younger adult participants involved in planning for interventions to make a difference in their community, and participants are being connected with other groups and organizations working to address poverty and inequality issues in an effort to build connections between groups across class and age divides and to affect positive change. For instance, the Coalition to End Poverty in Crow Wing County is currently implementing a mentorship program matching lower income younger adults with middle class residents in an effort to build social capital bridges across class gaps.


10. Please describe why you chose the presentation format you did.

A report document was chosen in order to provide a detailed, yet accessible, overview of the entire project, its goals, methods, findings, and suggested interventions. Both electronic and hard copies of the report have been widely distributed in the community and a front page newspaper article in the local paper was based on the report.


11. Please reflect on the strengths and limitations of your product. In what ways did community and academic/institutional collaborators provide feedback and how was such feedback used? Include relevant evaluation data about strengths and limitations if available.

Three major strengths of this work are (1) triangulation of data from multiple sources and perspectives; (2) participation from a group (lower income younger adults) that is often difficult to reach and to involve in community action endeavors; and (3) community groups are currently using the information for interventions aimed at better integrating lower income younger adults in community and economic life (see # 9 for more details).

The fact that academic and community collaborators worked closely together allowed for collection and triangulation of data from multiple sources (including semi-structured and open ended interviews, census data, participant observation, community meetings, questionnaires, and literature review) in order to ensure the validity of results. People from multiple backgrounds shared stories and insights about community relationships and challenges and reviewed initial results and offered feedback. Here, insights from the academic sociologist were combined with judgments from community leaders (more powerful community residents), and lower income younger adults (less powerful community residents).

One limitation of this work is that the sample of participants was not random, but rather limited to folks who committed time and effort to share ideas and to get involved in a community organization effort. While attempts were made to increase participation in this project, in the end it has been a relatively small subset of the younger adult population who has gotten involved. This subset includes a disproportionate number of college students and likely includes people who are more inclined to get involved and who have more skills than those found in the general population of younger adults in the Brainerd Lakes area. Ideally, we would have had more participation from the most disadvantaged younger adults, including those without a high school diploma. We might have been able to better reach this group with more outreach through social service agencies, such as WIC and food pantries.

Also, much of the data gathering for this project was collected in a public community meeting setting. While efforts were made to include all participants and to ensure that every response was appreciated, this atmosphere may have made some participants feel uncomfortable and/or restricted responses that some people might have made in a more private setting.

The most important limitation of this work is that only three of the 72 lower income younger adults who participated in some way in this project remain organized and connected to action efforts in the community. Participants actively engaged in the initial community meeting and shared at meeting conclusion that they felt “included” by participating. At the same time, however, most did not return for the follow up community meeting, and fewer still engaged with efforts to connect the group to other groups working for community action on the same issues we had identified as most important to address. Retention efforts were hindered by the fact that many of the participants had a change in contact information, even over the short 3 month span between the first and second meeting, due to a high level of mobility, phones that went inactive or changed numbers, and/or a lack of internet/email use.

Most of the collaborative work on project design, interpretation, and implementation has been between the academic researcher and the more powerful community residents who want to know more about issues facing lower income younger adults and to increase the social capital of that group; rather than lower income younger adult participants initiating the study and/or organizing themselves. Looking back, it would have been productive to place more effort on engaging a local leader for the younger adults group from early on in the project to participate in project design, help organize the group, promote its efforts, and to engender continuity.


12. Please describe ways that the project resulting in the product involved collaboration that embodied principles of mutual respect, shared work and shared credit. If different, describe ways that the product itself involved collaboration that embodied principles of mutual respect, shared work and shared credit. Have all collaborators on the product been notified of and approved submission of the product to CES4Health.info? If not, why not? Please indicate whether the project resulting in the product was approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) and/or community-based review mechanism, if applicable, and provide the name(s) of the IRB/mechanism.

The academic-community collaboration began when I (an academic researcher who had initially planned on doing a study of community well-being in the local area) interviewed a community resident who happened to be a member of a community group that had organized around the idea of promoting social capital in the community. She suggested that our work might be mutually beneficial and invited me to join the social capital working group. The group recognized from prior research that younger adults and lower income people in the community have relatively low levels of social capital, and they suggested that we work together to develop a project to learn more about why this would be the case and how lower income people and younger adults might be better integrated into community life.

I worked together with the social capital working group to set out project goals, design the research, and interpret results. In face to face meetings, several phone calls, and through emailing documents back and forth; we designed the project using a dialectical process between community group members and myself (the academic researcher). For instance, after participating in reflection and brainstorming meetings with the community group, I would write up a piece of the research plan, email it to group members to solicit feedback, then revise the plan in response to feedback received.

Younger adults were also engaged in collaboratively collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data. At community meetings for younger adults, participants first shared ideas in a brainstorming fashion. Then, as a group, we analyzed and evaluated the ideas by grouping them into categories, determining which were most important, sharing stories to further explicate ideas, and explaining the context within which ideas were generated. Participants were divided into small groups for much of this process and a leader from each group recorded the group’s ideas. These records became an important data source for the project. At the conclusion of the meetings, the academic researcher wrote a summary of results and shared it with all participants in a mailing to solicit feedback. Finally, at the conclusion of the project, the researcher and one of the younger adult participants together presented project results to the original social capital working group, the board of a local community foundation, and other community leaders in a public meeting. After the presentation, the results were interpreted amongst the group in a discussion format and plans were made for next steps to implement these results in action projects.

Readers may notice that in the final report (the product) the key issues listed on pages 15-16 do not exactly match with the suggested interventions on pages 17-20. This is because the participants were asked to brainstorm intervention ideas related to any one of the key issues the group had identified. After this brainstorming session, small groups presented their intervention ideas to the larger group, which then voted on which ideas participants felt best addressed important issues, were feasible to accomplish, and would garnish widespread community support. The intervention ideas that most excited participants did not match one to one with the key issues we had identified, still these were the ideas the group felt were best to pursue.

All members of the social capital working group and members of the younger adults group for whom I have a working email address have been notified and approved of submission of this product to CES4Health.info. The project was approved by the Social and Behavioral Sciences IRB through the Human Research Protection Program at the University of Wisconsin- Madison.