Thursday, August 7, 2008

volunteering in America

Social capital blog posts on the new rankings on volunteering from the Corporation for National and Community Service. They find that, not surprisingly, racially homogeneous cities like Ogden, UT and Iowa City, IA, have the highest rates of volunteering while Miami, FL, has the lowest rate of volunteering in the nation at 14.5% (my hometown represents!)

A quick look at the rankings highlights low rates of volunteering in California, Texas, and Florida. Not coincidentally, places with high numbers of Latinos. What do we make of this? Does it mean that Latinos do not volunteer? Can low volunteering rates be explained away by other factors that correlate with high Latino populations? Income? Hours worked?

I think one of the issues is the way this study defines volunteerism. What it doesn't show are more informal ways of community building. Where does helping a neighbor or family member move a dresser or helping put together a family bar-b-que fit into the larger scheme of volunteerinng? From my experieince growing up in the Cuban-American community in Miami, it seems that lots of things that Anglos might do through formal institutions like the Church are done informally through extended family networks. The larger question then become whether those informal activities are "civic" in the same way that formal volunteering seems to be.


Black Political Analysis said...

I'm not sure why racially homogeneous cities should be expected to volunteer more. For instance, I think of Houston, a very multicultural city, and the helping hand it lent to Hurricane Katrina evacuees from Louisiana (themselves a multi-ethnic lot).

Jose Marichal said...

Well, the literature suggests that racial/ethnic heterogeneity is correlated with lower levels of community trust and willingness to support taxes for collective goods. Putnam has a recent article in the Scandinavian Journal of Political Science that finds that racially heterogeneous cities have lower levels of social capital than homogeneous cities.

But, you're on to something. I think that there's more to the story than a simple diversity = lack of trust and low social capital. I actually did a paper at the Western last year on this topic.