Study reveals low-income Americans and people of color may face greater obstacles in a fast-recovering economy based on the size of their personal networks.

New research from The Impact Genome Project® and the MassMutual Foundation finds marginalized populations face barriers to higher-paying jobs, healthcare, and financial stability. The research reveals a higher percentage of low-income Americans and marginalized groups have limited or no personal networks to help them benefit from the nation’s post-COVID economic recovery.

Social Capital, an individual’s connectedness to others, is known to have a direct relationship to economic mobility. Differences in the size of trusted networks are especially acute by income, race, ethnicity, and education. White, college-educated, and wealthier adults are more likely to have more people they can rely on for personal and professional support.

Key findings from the research conducted in partnership with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (AP-NORC) include:

Trusted personal and professional support networks are small:
  • Personal Networks – 18% – or 46 million adults – have just one or no trustworthy person they can approach for emergencies like help when they are sick or someone to watch a child. This is true of 14% of white adults and jumps to 25% among Hispanic adults and 30% for Black adults. People with incomes below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) {1} are 2.5x more likely to have no one to turn to for help compared to those above the FPL.
  • Professional Networks – 20% – or 49 million adults – have no one they trust to help them write a resume, navigate a professional challenge, or get connected to a job opportunity. Hispanic adults (35%) and Black adults (38%) are more likely to have only one person or no one to help compared to white adults (26%).

Just over half of Americans were civically engaged last year: 54% of Americans volunteered, donated money, or engaged in civic groups in some way over the last year. Women were more likely than men (59% vs 49%) to be civically engaged. Americans with higher incomes were able to give more time or money over the last year.

There are still major barriers to accessing critical services and supports: While the majority who needed essential services were able to access them, 25% of black adults could not access needed services compared to just 10% of white adults. 62% who could not access a needed service like government benefits or the legal system cite not knowing if they were eligible or where to go for help.

So, what can we do?

“This research quantifies what we’ve long known to be true. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Says Jason Saul, CEO of the Impact Genome Project®.
“With precision data we can design interventions that drive economic mobility and financial stability for those people with limited Social Capital. Using these insights, we will work with a coalition of leading corporate philanthropies and other funders to invest in solutions that close the gap.”

The MassMutual Foundation is one of those leaders, partnering with Impact Genome® over the last several years to fund and support data-driven solutions for communities. Most recently, this includes identifying the need to better understand what it takes to build Social Capital and funding the Social Capital Genome.

“The creation of the Social Capital Genome is a first and a potential game-changer. The concept of Social Capital is integral to the work of the MassMutual Foundation and the Live Mutual Project; it constitutes the building of critical connections that can lead to better overall outcomes for members of the community, notably in the areas of long-term financial health and general well-being. The Genome will help funders, nonprofits, residents, and other stakeholders chart strategies better suited to fostering this very vital community asset.” – Dennis Duquette, President of the MassMutual Foundation

The findings of this research build off of and validate an earlier study from nearly four years ago that found nearly seven in ten said community involvement is important to their overall well-being and six in ten that put a premium on community involvement said they are confident in their financial future.

This Social Capital Genome announcement is the next phase of the Sentinel Outcomes Initiative, a multi-year effort to track and quantify the unmet urgent needs of all Americans, spanning Financial Health, Social Capital, Food Security, Housing, Employment, and Education. The Sentinel Outcomes Initiative is supported by leading corporate and private philanthropies, in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press (AP).

Sentinel Outcomes Initiative Briefings

Impact Genome’s Sentinel Outcomes Initiative will feature a new topic every two months throughout 2021.

Jason Saul, CEO of The Impact Genome Project® and Dennis Duquette, President of the MassMutual Foundation, will convene for a live briefing, State of Impact: Social Capital, on Tuesday, June 29 at 3 p.m. ET. They will discuss the research findings as well as opportunities to build and maintain Social Capital to foster upward social and economic mobility for the most historically marginalized and oppressed. Impact Genome announced research on The Financial Health Genome in May. Additional research on Food Security, Housing, Employment, and Education are still to come later this year.

To learn more about this research and register for Impact Genome briefings click here.

[1] The U.S. federal poverty level (FPL) is a measure of income the U.S. government uses to determine who is eligible for subsidies, benefits, and other government programs. Many of these programs use the FPL or up to 200% of the FPL to determine eligibility. FPL is determined using a combination of household income and the number of members of the household. For a family of four, the FPL is $32,190 in Alaska, $29,620 in Hawaii, and $25,750 in all other states. Calculations in this report are based on 2019 income.