The Family Burden of Disaster Assistance

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:15 PM
Room: 303
Oral Presentation
Michelle MEYER , Disaster Reduction and Recovery Center, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
One commonly proposed, but under-theorized, component of community disaster resilience is social capital. Social capital describes the resources available through a social network that can be activated to affect the outcomes for the individual members and the entire network (Bourdieu 1985; Lin 1999). This concept captures the interactive aspects of a community that imply a capacity to respond, adapt, learn from a disaster, and effectively reorganize community life quickly following an event (Cutter et al. 2008; Norris et al. 2008). Thus, social capital can be both a private and public good that generates resilience for individuals and families along with communities as a whole.

Using surveys and interviews with residents of two Florida counties, one rural and one urban, I discuss disaster social capital and its role in families’ resilience. I apply a common social network measure—the name generator—to measure the availability and source of disaster-specific resources in individuals’ social networks. This network-based approach to disaster social capital shows the importance of family to disaster assistance. Individuals turn to family first for all types of assistance, and almost exclusively for financial assistance. This reliance on family results in extreme racial homophily of disaster social capital networks. Further, older family members are more often indicated as sources of financial assistance, which results in further pressure on their often limited resources. Finally, low-income and high-income respondents have similar disaster assistance networks, but high-income respondents will only use family for nonfinancial assistance and use insurance or savings for financial needs. This result shows the increased pressure on low-income families to help each other “get by” during a disaster (Stack 1997). At the community level, my results indicate that privatized social capital may not result in outcomes for the entire community, instead following familial lines that are often racially and economically homogenous.