Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Social Marketing or Social Justice: A Dialogue on Access to Recreation for the Unemployed

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Social Marketing or Social Justice: A Dialogue on Access to Recreation for the Unemployed

Article excerpt

In the spring of 1991, we collected data regarding recreational opportunities for the unemployed from a representative nationwide sample of 335 parks and recreation departments serving major metropolitan areas in the United States. Two hundred eighty agencies responded. This dialogue summarizes our interaction as we processed the information collected in the survey.

HAVITZ: Clarence, what do you see as the most disturbing finding of this study?

SPIGNER: Clearly, the unemployed are over-represented by racial minorities. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian/Pacific Americans, and Native Americans now make up almost 25 percent of the U.S. population. Most are over-represented among the unemployed. Like infant mortality, the unemployment rate for African Americans has remained twice that of whites for the past decade. And one-third of African Americans now live below the poverty level compared to only ten percent of white Americans. African Americans outrank whites in almost all categories of morbidity and mortality indicators-from heart disease to accidents, followed by Hispanics and Native Americans. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services now uses a statistical procedure called "excess deaths," which explains the number of deaths of blacks and other minorities calculated beyond the death rates of whites, using whites as the standard.

Additionally, our research found that the unemployed were less likely to be targeted than were all other groups included in the survey, by a significant margin. For example, more than 85 percent offer price discounts to senior citizens and children, but only 39 percent offer discounts to the unemployed. Lack of access to recreational services can't help but exacerbate their negative health situations. It's interesting that our study found recreation agencies were more likely to provide price concessions to senior citizens than to other population groups. Given the shorter life expectancy of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans in comparison to white and Asian Americans, you could even make a case that the former groups benefit less from recreation agencies' reduced fee policies for senior citizens!

HAVITZ: I understand those are major problems and your last point is especially thought provoking, though neither of us would advocate wholesale abandonment of senior citizen discounts. But minority populations aren't the only ones disaffected by lack of access. The economic recession, plant closings, the shift from manufacturing to service-based economies and economic competition from overseas makes unemployment and its systemic relationship to health a somewhat color blind issue. Nevertheless, you make a very important point: That different groups have different needs. As obvious as that sounds, it remains a dilemma, especially if you work for a public sector agency.

So from my perspective as a recreation marketing professor, the most disturbing finding was that many recreation agencies continue to do a poor job of identifying target markets. For example, as you just noted, our analysis showed that the unemployed were rarely singled out as a target market. That didn't surprise me, but it did surprise me that agencies in communities with consistently high unemployment were less likely than agencies in communities with consistently low unemployment to modify their pricing and programming policies to reach unemployed constituents. A second example was that our research showed most agencies made virtually no distinction in pricing policies based on activity type. That is, agencies tend to use blanket policies ("yes, we give discounts" or "no, we don't give discounts") for all types of activities. There was little evidence that agencies were specifically discounting or promoting fitness programs, stress-reducing activities, adult education and job retraining that could be especially beneficial to unemployed individuals. …

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