Ethnic minority populations have been disproportionally affected by recent cuts to human services. The disparity in human service utilization between ethnic groups presents a problem that can be mitigated by nonprofit community-based organizations (CBOs). Often contracted by local governments to provide human services to low-income populations, CBOs are usually located in the communities they serve and are familiar with the needs of service users.
The purpose of this study is to explore the interaction between the contextual environment and organizational characteristics that influence access to human services by ethnic minorities living in low-income urban areas. Informed by community and organizational theories, this study uses cross-sectional data from the Los Angeles Nonprofit (LANP) Human Services Survey conducted by the School of Public Policy and Social Research at UCLA (Hasenfeld, Mosley, Katz, and Anheier, 2002) to answer the following research question: what are the contextual and organizational factors associated with the percentage of ethnic minority clients served?
Findings of the study suggest that varying community and organizational characteristics affect ethnic groups differently. For zip codes in which organizations in the study sample are located, GIS analysis of Los Angeles County indicates that areas with high ethnic minority concentrations are also areas where there are high poverty and unemployment rates, as well as high concentrations of residents with low English language capacity and educational attainment. The results of descriptive analyses reveal an overall trend of increasing percentages of African-American, white, Hispanic, and API board, staff, and clients served as the concentrations of the respective ethnic groups increase in zip codes. However, as the concentration of ethnic-specific population increases, the number of organizations per concentration category decreases across all groups, suggesting that organizations are likely to locate in diverse areas as opposed to areas where there are high concentrations of a particular ethnic group. Results from bi-variate analysis suggest that there are significant relationships between community characteristics and the percentage of ethnic minority clients served, but the findings of multi-variate analyses provides limited evidence of the contribution of these characteristics when controlling for different factors. While there are a number of significant organizational characteristics in the multi-level model across ethnic groups, only three significant associations were found at the zip code level: 1) a positive relationship between zip codes with high poverty concentration and African-American clients served, 2) a negative relationship between zip codes with high African-American residents and white clients served, and 3) a positive relationship between zip codes with high concentrations of API residents and API clients served.
Although the findings of multi-variate analyses provides limited support for the influence of community characteristics on ethnic clients served, the conceptual framework of this study puts forth strong arguments for the positive relationship between community and organizational factors with ethnic minority client populations and underscores the need to further study service delivery and utilization in the context of communities and organizations. By advancing the knowledge of human service utilization of ethnic minority groups from different perspectives (community, organization, and service user), practitioners, policy makers, funders, and researchers may be better positioned to understand the comprehensive barriers and needs of service users and how best to address them through community-based organizations.