Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

The Impact of Labor Market Involvement on Participation in Community

Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

The Impact of Labor Market Involvement on Participation in Community

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In this paper the relationship between labor market involvement and community participation is examined at the community level. Social capital theory postulates that if employment facilitates acquaintanceships, trust, and norms supporting collective action, then it will result in higher levels of participation. Conversely, aspects of employment such as commuting and dual wage earner households might negatively impact participation levels. An analysis of data from 10,798 residents of 99 Iowa small towns reveals that smaller communities, those with a higher percent of residents employed full time, more college graduates, and more of their employed working in town have higher community participation levels. The association of population size, full time employment, and working in the community with participation levels is partially explained by their contribution to acquaintanceship levels in communities. Other factors may also be involved in explaining the role of full time employment and population. The impact of percent of college graduates on participation is independent of acquaintanceship levels. Partial support is provided for social capital theory.

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INTRODUCTION

Communities are more than their economies. Even so, no one doubts the importance of the mutual and intertwining relationship between the two. Here, we will explore one dimension of that relationship--the association of labor market involvement and participation in community projects. Community refers to a collectivity of people organized in a geographic area that typically has its own government (Blau, 1964). Later in this paper, the term will be given a more precise empirical definition. Working with communities in Iowa, we have heard numerous public officials and community organizers complain that it is more difficult today than ever before to recruit volunteers for community projects. They explain that the increased incidence of two wage-earner households, one or both of whom may commute a long distance to the job, has resulted in little energy or time for community activities. In addition, the increase in commuting may decrease commitment and attachment to the community of residence. The position of this logic is that labor market involvement, especially when accompanied by multiple jobs per household and commuting to work, has a negative impact on participation in community.

An opposing view is presented by Putnam (1995a, b) in his elaboration of "civic engagement." This term refers to residents' involvement in the general life of their community, including among other things voting in elections, open discussion of public issues, and participation and interest in governmental and public affairs. According to Putnam (1993, 1995b), civic engagement depends upon the level of social capital present in a community. He defines social capital as "networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit" (Putnam, 1995a, p. 67). While citing Coleman (1988, 1990) and Jane Jacobs (1961) as his sources for the social capital concept, his work differs from their's, and also from Bourdieu's (1986), in taking the social capital conceptual framework to the community level of analysis and using it to explain community and national phenomena. Wall, Ferrazzi, and Schryer (1998) categorize Putnam's utilization of the concept as one of three distinct streams of social capital scholarship.

Putnam (1995a, b) maintains that there has been a decline in civic engagement in the U.S. He argues, however, that labor market involvement is not responsible for it. His rationale is that lower organizational involvement by people in the U.S. in the last three decades has decreased interaction among people, lowering trust and eroding norms of reciprocity--the components of social capital. The lessening of social capital has decreased people's interest in and willingness to work together for the public good. …

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