A National Public Radio economics commentator noted recently that elected officials are reveling in the fact of a rallying stock market, six-year-high consumer confidence numbers, a stabilizing tax revenue picture, and sustained positive GDP growth, however sluggish by contrast to prior decades. But this celebrative spirit, she also noted, obscures the fact that “we are merely bouncing along the [economic] bottom” and not yet in a true, sustained recovery.
Looking at the right indicators, it is clear we have yet to rebound as a nation from the Great Recession’s worst ravages. For example, we have yet to experience vigorous job creation, rising workforce participation by capable workers, robust business and corporate investment in innovation and new productive capacity, increased individual wealth particularly in the mid-quintiles of household income, and fewer household mortgage defaults or more mortgage financing workouts. Concerned as Community Partners is with increasing the ability of people in communities to take hold of and control their own destinies, the flaccidness of these latter indicators should give us pause. These realities need to spur Community Partners and our colleagues across the social, economic and public sectors to take careful stock of how the unrelenting truths of the economy resonate in people’s lives in neighborhoods, communities, cities and towns.
A host of forces and factors determine the fate of people in regions as complex as Southern California. Consider this handful:
- The region’s living laboratory called the nonprofit sector is grappling with a convergence of nonprofit and for-profit values and “forms” challenging the familiar separation of commercial and public benefit “systems.”
- The “social economy” has come into focus as an influential segment of the overall economy, producing “socially responsible businesses” and newly minted B-corps, intense grantmaker focus on “impact investing,” and new gathering places for practitioners in this arena, such as The Hub in downtown Los Angeles.
- Corporate social responsibility, last seen as an emergent phenomena in the 1980s and 90s that went relatively quiet for many years, has returned as a concern and as a market expectation, particularly of publicly traded businesses.
- Los Angeles is experiencing “the year of the native” as the majority of city residents shifts from those who were born somewhere else (another city or country) to the majority of Angelenos being born here.
- National GDP is expected to rise, albeit slowly, after a horrific national recession wiped out opportunity for many blue collar and young workers. California’s GDP will rise more and we will do better than the nation as a whole in the coming years.
- Technology has become part of our civic DNA and, increasingly, we will see “mobile everything” according to researchers, changing the face of whole fields of traditional practice like charitable giving, business creation, job possibilities, and communications in general.
- People have benefited or will benefit from gigantic investments of public resources – witness the Affordable Care Act – but places, facilities and infrastructure have lagged in investment and a great deal of catching up needs to be done. Schools have been an exception here. But only minor provisions have been made in the ACA to construct facilities and equipment to receive and minister to millions of new patients.
- Health care in general is in a rapidly accelerating shift from treating disease to preventing disease and promoting healthy living. It is a trend likely to see – even with the current shortage of doctors – a move toward health educators as the gold standard of a strong, caring community.
These are the realities currently facing our civic culture. If any of us hopes to contribute to the shaping of strong, caring communities within this culture’s ecosystem, then we must understand and address these realities in our work. Caring communities do not occur by chance or accident. Rather they are built from the disparate intentions of many people connected through a supportive and resilient societal web.
Six clear features distinguish people surrounded by a supportive civic ecosystem:
- Physically and emotionally healthy people feel good and behave with life and vigor.
- Secure people want to engage and involve themselves with others.
- Connected people feel deep mutual bonds of relationship and reciprocity.
- Capable people experience a sense of agency and personal control.
- Competent people feel sturdy and determined in the ventures they pursue.
- Prosperous people choose their destiny and believe the future is theirs.
People who value strong, caring communities must regard “bouncing along the bottom” – as America continues doing with its national economy – as a standard equal to nothing more than embarrassing mediocrity, wasteful at best and deeply damaging in the extreme. If we want our asses rubbed raw by this road to ruin, we can continue dragging our butts and doing what we’re doing. Scrambling to our collective feet and harnessing ourselves to six high standards for every human being: that’s something. Let’s get going.