According to Bourdieu, a founding theorist of Social Capital Theory, there are three basic types of capital; economic, cultural and social.

  • Most of us know what economic capital is – capital that can be converted immediately and directly into money
  • Cultural capital is tied to the educational system and all of the holders of this Capital can at some point convert it into economic capital. Cultural capital is generally grounded in skills and knowledge.
  • Social capital is capital based on relationships that provide useful support when needed and those relationships are built on trust.

Bourdieu also states the volume of social capital possessed by a given agent (…) depends on the size of the network of connections he can effectively mobilize and on the volume of the capital (economic, cultural or symbolic) possessed in his own right by each of those to whom he is connected”.

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February 2020

Lend Your Social Capital to Low-Income Communities.

The process for connecting low-income individuals to job opportunities on construction projects with public investment is flawed. Contractors generally don’t meet their socio-economic goals because they hire people who are not “ready-to-work” or the claim they cannot find anyone who is capable of working. There are many people from low-income communities who are prepared to work and capable of maintaining employment if given access to the opportunity.

Karl Jackson learned about job opportunities on Instagram at 2 pm on a Thursday. He had a doctor’s appointment at 3:30 pm, but decided to skip the appointment instead and go to the south Baltimore location identified in the Instagram post because he desperately needed a job to support his growing family; he’d been looking since July of 2019. Karl showed-up as a drop-in, but interviews were pre-scheduled in advance of that Thursday. Luckily, a few people had not shown-up, and interview slots were open. Karl was in his neat everyday athletic clothing. He introduced himself to the interviewer and spoke quite excitedly about rushing down to the interview. The interviewer asked all of the relevant questions and learned by the end of the interview that Mr. Jackson was quite capable of maintaining employment. He had held challenging jobs like working with autistic adults for more than four years and was a highly reliable, trustworthy, and ambitious person.

According to Cain Branford, President of Adroit Construction, government agencies expect construction contractors to solve their problem by hiring people who are not prepared and keeping them employed. Mr. Branford also noted that when he staffs a project that requires 20 people and the socio-economic goals in his contract require that he hire two people, he staffs the project with 22 people. The result of this practice is that public resources are spent in excess of what is required and people who are not prepared for work obtain employment just to check the box. The subcontractor has to ensure that he has competent staff to complete the work and cannot rely on unprepared residents from low-income communities to meet their needs.

However, as we discover with Mr. Jackson, people in low-income communities are quite capable of working for extended periods; they just lack access to opportunity. Social Capital has become an increasingly important factor in access to opportunities for all communities from the academic to the affluent. Eighty percent of jobs are found utilizing social capital, and only seventy percent of them are shared in the public realm. The challenge for low-income communities is that the traditional model of social capital as a means to access employment doesn’t work.

At a jobs outreach meeting my team recently held in south Baltimore for a construction project, several young men voiced their frustration to my staff—they stated that they almost didn’t come to the meeting. They complained that they were tired of programs that promised employment; they had been participants in several local programs (which receive significant philanthropic investment) and still hadn’t achieved steady employment. These individuals were clearly capable—the programs that they participated in in-fact screen potential participants to ensure that they will be successful in their programs. The participants must demonstrate the characteristics of a “reliable employee” in order to be accepted. But these workforce development programs don’t have high-level social networks for employment opportunities like private industry. My firm, a private for-profit real estate organization, does outreach in communities in which we are developing and building projects. We work with local universities and non-profit and government workforce development organizations to assist them in placing low-income individuals into employment opportunities. As the principal of a private organization that has been in business for more than 20 years and who has a professional degree, I have access to the principals of many professional service firms and construction companies. In recent years, I have leveraged my social capital to assist over 100 people, including public housing residents, formerly incarcerated individuals, and low-income neighborhood residents obtain employment.

Low-income communities are fraught with social challenges. Those challenges include poor health conditions, poor housing conditions, underfunded school systems, and high rates of unemployment. The effects of unemployment in low-income communities and poverty impacts everyone in our society. With the current low-unemployment, 3.1% for white Americans and 5.9% for black Americans, many pundits note that black Americans should be happy because they are benefitting from the good economy and low unemployment rates. Simultaneously the federal government is threatening to cut social programs like Medicare, SNAP, and Social Security, which support those same populations.

The reality is that individuals from low-income communities still have challenges accessing job opportunities. If they had meaningful social capital, then perhaps the most vulnerable citizens in our society wouldn’t require those social programs in the same way. Maybe those same funds could be reinvested in platforms that provide social capital. Social Media plus social capital connections could be a meaningful way to help low-income people without a college education connect to private industry jobs. We, as a society, need to come together and lend our social capital to those who lack it. By being a bridge to social capital, all of our communities can benefit.

Chart Sources:
Gallup. (2018). The State of Opportunity in America, Understanding Barriers and Identifying Solutions.

Retrieved from http://www.advancingopportunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/The-State-of-Opportunity-in-America-Report-Center- for-Advancing-Opportunity.pdf

Neumark, D., & Meer, J. (2019, January 22). Concentrated Poverty and the Disconnect Between Jobs and Workers. Retrieved February 16, 2020, from https://econofact.org/concentrated-poverty-and-the-disconnect-between-jobs-and-workers

Ayres, M. E. (2016). Social capital and career advancement for African Americans. Monthly Labor Review.

Häuberer, J. (2011). Social Capital Theory Towards a Methodological Foundation  (1st ed.). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-531-92646-9