Social Capital: A Tale of Caution and a Tale of Hope for Charlotte

Digital Feature by Bridget Anderson, Kailas Venkitasubramanian , Lori Thomas
September 10, 2020

UNC Charlotte Urban Institute   (Charlotte)

Fifty out of fifty. It’s a phrase that has become familiar in Charlotte conversations over the last six years. The phrase calls the Charlotte area out as having the lowest economic mobility rate of any major city in the U.S. Only about 5% of children born in Charlotte to a family in the bottom fifth for income are expected to make it to the top income quintile as adults. 

Raj Chetty —  the primary author of the now-famous economic mobility study —  and his colleagues found five factors that contributed to Charlotte placing last in economic mobility: residential segregation, income inequality, poor primary schools, family instability, and lack of social capital. Of these factors, social capital is the most difficult to understand, yet the Leading on Opportunity Task Force noted it as possibly the “secret sauce” that could lead to greater economic opportunity in our region. 

This article series will examine social capital in Charlotte-Mecklenburg using observational results from UNC Charlotte Urban Institute’s 2019 Social Capital Survey. These articles will help to answer questions such as: Who trusts their neighbors? Who trusts the police? Where do people turn to for support and connections? But first, what is social capital, and why do we care?