'Fragile' Communities Face 10 Percent Unemployment, Survey Finds

'Fragile' Communities Face 10 Percent Unemployment, Survey Finds

Lack of job opportunities, inadequate access to higher education, health issues, and high crime rates prevent many people in fragile communities from achieving the American dream, a report from the Center for Advancing Opportunity, Gallup, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the Charles Koch Foundation, and Koch Industries finds.

Based on focus groups and a survey of more than sixty-two hundred Americans living in fragile communities — defined as communities where a high proportion of residents struggle financially and have limited opportunities for social mobility — the report, The State of Opportunity in America (68 pages, PDF), found that 10 percent of respondents — including 14 percent of African Americans, 10 percent of Latino/as, and 5 percent of white residents — were not employed despite actively looking for work during the past four weeks.

The most common issue cited by respondents as the greatest challenge to their securing employment was health problems (30 percent), followed by a shortage of job openings (19 percent), available jobs not paying enough (12 percent), and the need to care for children or other family members (11 percent). In addition, 33 percent of respondents said they once aspired to start a business but gave up, as would-be entrepreneurs often lack access to capital and/or the skills needed to succeed and face the additional risk of poor local economic conditions. 

According to the report, the findings highlight "the two-way relationship between low socioeconomic status and poor health in such communities and the need for more targeted research to determine which health interventions have the most potential to break this negative cycle."

At the same time, the survey found that residents rated their current situations at an average of 6.07 on a scale of 0 to 10, and they predicted that in five years their living situation would improve to an average of 7.43, with African Americans expressing more confidence (5.95 to 7.62) than white residents (6.08 to 6.99). Indeed, optimism in the future seems to be far greater among residents of fragile communities than among the general population.

Launched in 2017 by TMCF with $25.6 million in funding from the Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries, the center plans to publish a series of reports focused on the voices of the residents of fragile communities. "The findings will be instrumental in designing public and private sector initiatives that help Americans in such areas improve not just their own lives," Gallup's Steve Crabtree and Faith Gaines wrote in a blog post, "but the stability and prosperity of their families and broader communities as well."

(Photo credit: Center for Advancing Opportunity)

Steve Crabtree, Faith Gaines. "New Study Gives Americans in Fragile Communities a Voice." Gallup Blog Post 02/05/2018.