Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Nonprofit Sector Engagement and Economic Mobility: Trends By Socioeconomic Status

Saturday, November 14, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jodi Benenson, University of Nebraska, Omaha
For many households in the United States, upward economic mobility has stalled. Specifically, for households in the lowest economic quintiles, upward economic mobility occurs less frequently than for households across other income quintiles. While forms of civic engagement such as giving and volunteering previously have not been framed as a mechanism for upward economic mobility, in recent years scholars and policymakers have begun to recognize that participation in nonprofit sector activities not only provides social and economic benefits to communities, but also to the individuals participating in civic acts. An emerging body of literature suggests that nonprofit sector activities can help facilitate connections and develop skills that may affect participants’ employment and income statuses.

However, the relationship between nonprofits and economic mobility has not been adequately examined by socioeconomic status. While previous literature suggests that both lower and higher income individuals indirectly receive economic benefits from participation in nonprofit activities, little is known about whether an economic mobility “gap” exists between lower income and more affluent members of households who are civically engaged. This gap is important to understand for two reasons. First, opportunities for civic engagement are not equal for all segments of the population. For instance, research identifies one’s income as influencing participation in types of nonprofit sector activities that are more demanding or require financial resources (e.g., donating money), but volunteering is less affected by income than other forms of engagement. Second, issues surrounding access to and opportunities for participation may directly influence whether participation in nonprofit sector activities can serve as a mechanism toward upward economic mobility.  Thus, access and opportunities to participate in nonprofit activities advantage some groups over others, and may influence one’s upward economic mobility.

This paper examines the relationship between engagement in the nonprofit sector and economic mobility in the United States. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from 2001-2011, this paper examines the long-term effects of participation in volunteering and giving money on economic mobility. In this paper, economic mobility is defined in terms of relative intra-generational mobility, or how much better or worse a person is doing economically over time. Mobility is measured by the extent to which the economic outcomes of employment and income situations change over time individuals of varying socioeconomic statuses.  Preliminary multivariate analyses reveal a positive and significant relationship between giving, volunteering, and economic mobility, but variation exists by socioeconomic status.

This paper provides two contributions to the field. First, investigating the relationship between nonprofit sector participation and inequality through the lens of economic mobility is an approach distinct from much existing research on civic engagement, and the results of this paper will add to the small but growing body of literature that examines the economic effects giving and volunteering on individuals and communities. Second, understanding decade-long trends in economic mobility based on nonprofit sector activities and socioeconomic status has the potential to inform policies and programs in the civic engagement and workforce development arenas.