Building Social Capital

Grays Harbor County has been experiencing some unfortunate trends that need to be addressed, and can, through increasing social capital. Between 2010 and 2015 (the most recent data available), the county experienced a decrease in total population.

Grays Harbor County Population Change, 2010 to 2015

Figure 1: Grays Harbor County population change between 2010 and 2015. Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 1-year estimates, Table DP05.

However, looking more closely at these numbers reveals how the population is changing. The region has been experiencing a declining population for those under the age of 65, but people over the age of 65 continue to move into the region. It's great that as people exit their working years they have identified Grays Harbor as a great place to settle into retirement, but we need to make sure that there are opportunities for people that still require good jobs to support their families.

Population Change by Age Group, 2010 to 2015

Figure 2: Population change by age group between 2010 and 2015. Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 1-year estimates, Table DP05.

Employment has held fairly steady, but there has been a structural shift as more people are employed in the services industry. In 2015, service jobs paid, on average, $17,634 (2016$) less than non-service jobs in the region.

Table 1: Non-service jobs, service jobs, and total jobs in Grays Harbor County for the years 2010 and 2015 and their difference. Source: US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Regional Economic Accounts, Table CA25N.

2010 2015 Change
Non-Service Jobs
6,586 6,029 -557
Service Jobs
16,791 17,550 759
Total Jobs
29,846 29,864 18

Average Annual Wages (2016$)

Figure 3: Average annual wage (2016$) by industry. Source: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, 2016.

Between 2010 and 2015 wage and salary employment (full and part-time) decreased by 68 jobs while the number of proprietors in the region has increased by 86 jobs.

Table 2: Wage and salary jobs and proprietorship in Grays Harbor County from 2010 to 2015. Source: US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Regional Economic Accounts, Table CA30.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Wage & Salary Jobs
23,580 23,339 23,784 23,421 23,521 23,512
Proprietors 6,266 6,326 6,124 6,149 6,162 6,352

The decline in the working age population, decline in higher-paying non-service jobs, increase in lower paying service jobs, and increase in proprietors all indicate that the region could benefit from increased social capital. Let's take a closer look at what social capital means and how it can help.

Social capital is defined as a social network that has an underlying trust and is built on reciprocity. Increased social capital can lower crime rates (Halpern 1999, Putnam 2000), lead to better health (Wilkinson 1996), improve longevity (Putnam 2000), lead to better educational achievement (Coleman 1988), create greater income equality (Wilkinson 1996, Kawachi et al. 1997), improve child welfare and lower rates of child abuse (Cote and Healy 2001), lead to less corruption and a more effective government (Putnam 1995), and enhance economic achievement through increased trust and lower transaction costs (Fukuyama 1995). The cumulative effect of which creates a place where people want to live.

So how can we increase social capital? There are lots of ways, but let's focus on just one for a moment, a young professionals and entrepreneurs (YPE) group. A YPE group targets the very demographics that Grays Harbor is struggling to retain. These are young, working adults that are starting to have families. Additionally, trends suggest that they are more likely to work in the service industry and to be a proprietor. A YPE group creates opportunities for young people to socialize, meet people they wouldn't have otherwise, explore places they would have never gone, and build a community with strong local relationships.

As an economist with Washington Sea Grant, I am focused on building resilient coastal communities. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after a disturbance. When we think of resilience we tend to equate it with ecological resilience, but this includes social resilience as well. Increasing social capital through network building in the community results in a more resilient community. I have created a new YPE group called Harbor Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE) in an effort to retain young professionals in the region through programs that build social networks and ties to the community. HYPE seeks to fill this need in the community and to create a more economically resilient coastal community.


Coleman, J. (1988) Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital. American Journal of
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Cote S, Healy, T. (2001) The Well-being of Nations. The role of human and social capital.
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Fukuyama, F. (2000) Social Capital and Civil Society. International Monetary Fund Working Paper WP/00/74.

Halpern, D. (1999) Social capital: the new golden goose. Faculty of Social and Political
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Kawachi, I. Kennedy, B. Lochner, K. Prothrow-Stith, D. (1997) Social Capital, Income
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Wilkinson, R. (1996) Unhealthy Societies: the afflictions of inequality. London: Routledge.