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Civic Inequalities in High Growth Region


Civic Inequalities in High Growth Region

New UC Riverside report finds minority influence in the Inland Empire is limited by gap in civic participation.

(April 20, 2008)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Latinos and Asian Americans in the Inland Empire of Southern California lag in civic participation behind African Americans and whites on a host of activities, ranging from voting to writing elected officials and volunteering in community organizations, researchers at the University of California, Riverside have found.

Even when they do participate, organizations serving racial and ethnic populations are less likely to get noticed by public officials, according to a report, “Inland Gaps: Civic Inequalities in a High Growth Region,” published today in “Policy Matters,” a quarterly publication of UC Riverside.

Those findings are concerning for fast-growing regions such as California’s Inland Empire, comprised of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The region already has over 4 million residents, more than 24 states in the country, and is expected to double in size by 2050.

The authors note that, while the development of a civic infrastructure is critical to sustain vibrant local democracy in the region, so too is the need to minimize inequalities across racial and ethnic groups. Currently, no group can claim majority status in the region and, according to a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California, Latinos will be the majority within the next decade.

“Differences in civic participation often lead to disparities in the ability of individuals to have influence over local decisions,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, assistant professor of political science and author of the study with graduate students Dino Bozonelos, Louise Hendrickson, and Tom Wong. “While civic life in the Inland Empire is vibrant and diverse in many ways, there are also considerable civic inequalities, both at the individual and organizational levels.”

A survey Ramakrishnan conducted in 2007 concluded that explosive growth in the Inland Empire is producing a population that is more diverse ethnically, less Republican, and less likely to volunteer in civic organizations. This report builds on that study and includes five focus groups with members of different racial and ethnic groups in the Inland Empire, 61 interviews with government officials in 11 cities, and 67 interviews with leaders of community groups in eight of those cities. The researchers identified approximately 6,800 nonprofit organizations in the Inland Empire. About 10 percent of those serve predominantly nonwhite residents.

“Even though there are many community organizations serving racial and ethnic groups in the region, very few of them are connected to local leadership,” Ramakrishnan said. “Also, many mainstream civic groups have conducted only limited outreach to newcomer groups. Both of these patterns point to potential problems in maintaining a vibrant democracy in a growing and diverse region.”

The researchers also found that significant resource disparities exist between mainstream and ethnic organizations in terms of having nonprofit status and paid staff.

“The relationship between nonprofit status and organization resources is also mutually enforcing, as informal organizations are unable to receive grants from government agencies and private foundations,” Ramakrishnan said.

Also, while public officials pay attention to a handful of Latino and African American Chambers of Commerce and advocates for the poor in high-density neighborhoods, they are largely unaware of the larger array of community organizations that serve nonwhite residents, he said.

The researchers suggested that fewer civic inequalities would exist at the organizational level:

• if public officials were to expand their knowledge of community organizations;

• if more blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans occupied elected and appointed positions in the community;

• if foundations and government agencies rewarded organizations that serve multiple groups, which would encourage mainstream groups to diversify their membership; and

• if foundations and well-funded organizations helped informal ethnic associations achieve nonprofit status.

“What is clear from our study is that doing nothing will leave residents and community organizations with significant inequalities in civic resources and political visibility, and this does not bode well for a region that continues to rapidly diversify by race and ethnicity,” Ramakrishnan said.

The 2007 survey and report released today were funded by The James Irvine Foundation.

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