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Poverty In Our Area: Social Capital

Posted Jul 20, 2022 8:27 AM
By Patricia Jones, Alliance Poverty Task Force

Capital is an asset. When we talk about social capital, we are talking about people as assets – the people we are connected to. Social capital includes friends, family, neighbors, co-workers – the people who keep us from being socially isolated and who give us a sense of belonging. They tend to be like us and understand where we are coming from. Social capital is one of the most important resources we each have.

How many of us have asked a neighbor for something – an egg needed to finish a recipe? To water our lawn when we are out of town? A ride because our car won’t start? Of course, we reciprocate when they need a favor.

How many of us have asked family members for a loan to get us by? Or to watch our children? Or to give us a place to stay when we have a crisis?

How many of us have friends we share our thoughts with? We tell them our stories, what we are doing, what is important to us, what we think is funny. We ask for their help when we want to sell something. We ask them to join us in projects we are working on in the community.

This type of social capital is called bonding capital. These are the people we rely on. They give us emotional and material support and help us get by in our day-to-day lives.

Bonding capital is an especially important resource for people in poverty. Relationships are critical, and families tend to be the center of the world. People trade stories, information, and opinions. They help each other out when money is tight, or the family is facing a crisis. We are more likely to go out of our way for someone we have a bond with, as opposed to someone we know nothing about.

We see bonding capital in immigrant communities, too. Newcomers live near people who are similar to them, speak their language, work in the same businesses. They help each other and make the transition to their new lives go more smoothly.

That has been true throughout the history of America. I grew up in northeast Nebraska where most of the settlers came from Germany in the late 1800 or early 1900’s to farm. There were towns near us that were Czech, or Swedish, or Irish; many have summer celebrations of their roots. My great grandparents spoke German at home, sent their children to schools where German was spoken, attended a German Lutheran Church. They maintained and treasured their ethnic heritage until laws passed during World War I made those activities a crime. Their ethnic community continued to help friends and families overcome problems for many decades.

Bonding capital, the social support between family members and friends, is most effective in helping people get by in their current situations, their day-to-day lives.

Next week we will talk about bridging capital, the people we know who are different from us and not in our immediate social circle. Bridging capital are all the other people we have connections with. Our bridging capital can help us get ahead – to create those bridges out of poverty.