Our View: Community: Division Can Thwart Progress | Editorials

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A recent study on how communities solve problems and accumulate assets shows that the more people work together, the more they join civic groups or get involved in volunteer activities, the more successful they are.

It doesn’t sound like science fiction. But as we watch the deterioration of civility around us – from school board meetings where residents physically argue to social media sumps – there is cause for concern.

Not only does the division do no good, it is downright harmful to the health of a community. Recent research shows that communities that work together build social capital – goodwill and good neighborliness – and that is directly linked to problem solving and asset building.

An in-depth analysis of social capital conducted in 2018 by researchers for the Congressional Joint Economic Committee shows that a state’s “social capital index” is directly linked to its success in many areas and to the success of its people.

Social capital relates to how a community is connected to its groups, people, and institutions charged with making things happen. The researchers of the joint committee developed a social capital index for almost all counties in the country. He found that counties with high social capital had high levels of volunteerism, high levels of charitable giving, high voting rates, and a high number of nonprofits or religious organizations.

Unsurprisingly, low social capital is correlated with violent crime, family stability, and the amount of time children spend watching television and using electronic devices.

The good news is that Minnesota has the second highest level of registered capital in the United States, just behind Utah. Wisconsin is third, and other states in the Upper Midwest rank high as well, as do Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire on the east coast.

While Minnesota as a whole ranks at the top of the Social Capital Index, Blue Earth County is lower than all counties in the United States as it ranks in the 79th percentile. The surrounding rural counties all rank in the 90th percentile.

The index is useful for policy making because it provides a measurable and objective ranking of the well-being of a community so that policy makers can solve problems.

Mankato has a long standing reputation for its number of service clubs and has consistently ranked high in charitable contributions per capita. There are many social support structures in place, from domestic violence services to homeless shelters, and many non-profit organizations that provide safety net services like housing and food racks.

But as our policies divide, we must remember that the very fabric of our communities could fall apart before we know it if we allow our social capital to deplete.

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