NISSWA - Younger people with low incomes feel excluded in the Brainerd lakes area, a report finds.
"Younger adults have lost jobs and experience poverty at higher rates than any other age group in this area," said Richelle Winkler, an associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Winkler presented her research findings at Grand View Lodge Monday afternoon. Winkler's study was a follow-up to a social capital survey that involved 560 area residents.
Social capital looks at human connections and a sense of community belonging with benefits to both the individual and society. The study effort referenced Robert Putnam's book "Bowling Alone," which chronicles the decline in social interaction in America - from blood drives to bowling leagues.
The argument is that as more people go from job to home to sit in front of their own TV sets at night, a sense of neighborhood and community is lost in the process. People are less likely to volunteer, less likely to help each other and less likely to be involved in the democratic elective process.
Families played in Mill Park in Brainerd on Monday. A social capital survey suggests a sense of community benefits the individual and society at large. A recent study in the lakes area looked at obstacles that keep young adults from establishing greater bonds in the community. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Research suggests communities rich in social capital have higher achievements in education, better performances in government, faster economic growth and less crime and violence.
The lakes area did pretty well in terms of social capital according to the survey with a notable exception - younger people with lower incomes. That led Winkler to the follow-up study. She looked specifically at what obstacles keep those young people from establishing greater bonds in the community. Seventy-two people participated in the study from filling out surveys to attending community meetings in Crosby and Brainerd.
Winkler's research showed young people - particularly in the 25 to 34 year age group - have seen jobs decline dramatically in Crow Wing County since 2000.
The participants in Winkler's meetings listed major issues of: affordable quality housing; lack of transportation; lack of social activity and places to meet; lack of positive role models; cost of living; inability to access education to better themselves because of cost or juggling jobs and young families; and general ignorance of their economic struggles to get by in a community that has multi-million lake homes.
The participants suggested a housing resource center, a community center, a homeless shelter for men, a public works program where people could find work while benefiting community needs.
Winkler was most surprised by the feeling of discrimination young people expressed related, in part, to their age. They felt they were adversely judged by past mistakes, by a bad family reputation or just had little expected of them.
Their life goals reflected a desire for - job and home stability, more education, reliable transportation, to be debt-free, safe, secure and healthy.
They expressed a desire to make a positive difference in their community, but felt they were living on the edge with a medical bill or car repair enough to push them over. They also felt a world apart - even from the middle class and said most resources were devoted to older residents or tourists.
Winkler said bringing young people to the table to generate ideas and take part in decisions is one way to make them feel more part of the process and build social capital.
Kathryne Rhode, 24, Brainerd, took part in the area meetings. She shared the feeling of being ostracized from the community based on her age. She said the study was a rare time when the community was trying to find out what young people thought.
"I think that is a great thing to have come about," Rhode said.
The group gathered Monday discussed what do next with this information, saying the study's results will be useful for the future. Mark Ronnei, general manager at Grand View, suggested a follow-up "big idea" meeting so organizations could pitch ideas to funding organizations.
Monday's session was facilitated by Mike Burton, Central Minnesota Community Foundation affiliate coordinator, whose organization sponsored the survey with community partners of the Brainerd Dispatch, Brainerd Lakes Area Development Corp., Brainerd Lakes Chamber and Central Lakes College with funding assistance from the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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