Oct. 3—A recent study on how well communities solve problems and build 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 rocket science. But as we look at the deteriorating civility around us — from school board meetings where residents get in physical altercations to the cesspools of social media — there's cause for concern.
Divisiveness not only doesn't feel good, it's downright harmful to the health of a community. Recent research shows that communities that work together build social capital — good will and neighborliness — and that is directly related to problem solving and asset building.
A 2018 in-depth analysis of social capital by researchers for the Joint Economic Committee in Congress shows a state's "social capital index" is directly related to its success in many areas and the success of its people.
Social capital relates to how connected a community is to its groups, its people and its institutions charged with getting things done. Researchers for the joint committee developed a social capital index for nearly every county in the country. It found counties with high social capital had high levels of volunteerism, high levels of charitable giving, high voting rates and high numbers of nonprofits or religious organizations.
Not surprisingly, low social capital is correlated to violent crime, family stability, time children spend watching television and time using electronics.
The good news is Minnesota has the second highest level of social capital in the United States, just behind Utah. Wisconsin is third and other Upper Midwest states also rank high, as do Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire on the East Coast.
While Minnesota as a whole ranks high on the social capital index, Blue Earth County is lower, compared to all counties in the U.S., as it ranks in the 79th percentile. Surrounding rural counties all rank in the 90th percentiles.
The index is useful for policymaking because it provides and objective measurable ranking of a community's well-being so that policymakers can address the problems.
Mankato has a longstanding reputation for its number of services clubs and has always ranked high in charitable contributions per capita. There are many social support structures in place from domestic abuse services to homeless shelters, and numerous nonprofits that offer safety net services like housing and food shelves.
But as our politics become more divided, we should remember that the very fabric of our communities could be unraveling before we know it if we allow our social capital to be depleted.