The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Concentrated Disadvantage, the Geography of Power, and the Spatial Distribution of Nonprofit Human Service Organizations

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 8:45 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon E, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Eve Garrow, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and purpose:  The location of nonprofit human services is an especially critical issue in poor neighborhoods, where residents typically rely heavily on public and nonprofit goods and services and cannot afford to purchase alternatives on the market.  The prevailing theoretical frameworks employed in nonprofit scholarship expect that the nonprofit sector will respond to need with greater nonprofit density.  Yet research on the relationship between poverty and nonprofit density is contradictory, with some research showing that many disadvantaged areas experience a scarcity of nonprofit organizations.  What accounts for the unequal distribution of nonprofit human services organizations across poor neighborhoods?  Combining insights from institutional theory and urban political economy, this paper tests the idea that interrelated social hierarchies, social policies that echo them, and institutional and political dynamics influence variations in nonprofit density.   I expect that nonprofit density will be lower in poor areas of concentrated poverty, which are populated by groups that are socially devalued and politically powerless.  I also expect that poor neighborhoods that are able to exercise electoral power will be more successful in acquiring resources necessary to support a local nonprofit sector.  Finally, I expect that collective efficacy, defined as “social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good,” will enable neighborhoods to advocate collectively for nonprofit resources and will thus be positively related to nonprofit density.

Methodology:  The study uses a 2011 census of 501(c) (3) nonprofit human services in Los Angeles County drawn from the National Center for Charitable Statistics Business Master Files.  It includes student services, health and rehabilitative programs, mental health, crime control and prevention, abuse prevention, employment, food and nutrition, housing, youth development, human services, and civil rights programs.  ArcGIS was used to geocode the organizations to their respective census tracts.  The dependent variable is nonprofit density, operationalized as the number of nonprofit human service organizations per 10,000 persons in the census tract.  Census data from the American Community Survey 5-year estimates and voting data from the Harvard Election Results Archive Dataverse were used to construct the independent variables.  Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression was used to test the hypotheses.

Results: While the analysis provides contingent support that poverty increases the density of nonprofits, results indicate that nonprofit density is negatively related to poor neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage and positively related to political advantages such as electoral power and collective efficacy. In addition, the analysis suggests that the negative association between concentrated disadvantage and nonprofit density can be attributed, in part, to lack of electoral power.

Conclusions and implications:  The findings suggest that the nonprofit sector does not simply respond to neighborhood need by providing more service organizations. Although the sector seems to respond to some poverty neighborhoods with more services, nonprofits are scarce in the most severely disadvantaged and politically marginalized poor neighborhoods. The analysis raises the possibility that extra-local funders contribute to these disparities by channeling funding away from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.