Leaders of nonprofit Communities Foundation of Texas were unaware of what the future held when they embarked on a comprehensive analysis of economic opportunity in Collin County in 2019. Now, the report serves as a baseline for analyzing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, chief philanthropy officer Sarah Cotton Nelson said.

The 44-page report, conducted by public policy nonprofit Every Texan, was initially planned for release in April. It outlines Collin County's economic status related to race and ethnicity, income, educational attainment and wealth. It also includes a two-page addendum that gauges the impact of the pandemic on county residents in terms of employment, affected job sectors and health insurance coverage. Communities Foundation of Texas partnered with Every Texan and JPMorgan Chase to present the findings of the assessment during an Oct. 22 virtual launch.

“It is our hope that the collective snapshot now presented can help us understand where there are challenges and opportunities to help create thriving, financially stable communities across Collin County,” Nelson said.

Indicators for economic opportunity and wellness in the county include demographic changes to Collin County’s population, income, education, debt and assets, and health. These categories make up the bulk of the report that was prepared before the pandemic, but information was gathered and updated to reflect the initial impacts of the crisis.

“There’s definitely good news and data [in the report] that [Collin County] can be proud of. ... But the pandemic and recession could increase the many barriers that are limiting upward mobility for some residents,” Every Texan CEO Ann Beeson said.

As Collin County grows, it is becoming increasingly diverse, which is a positive indicator for opportunity, Beeson said. The Asian population is the fastest-growing group in the county, and the nonwhite population has grown three times faster than the white population in the four-year period since 2015.

Equity gaps are also widening in Collin County, the report shows. The bottom fifth of earners, or residents who live at or below the poverty level, saw a 6% decline in income over the last 10 years. Hispanic residents are three times as likely to to experience poverty as white residents and twice as likely as Black or Asian residents, Beeson said.

“While overall trends before the pandemic are pointing to a more balanced economy with better income equality, the fact that the bottom tier of households lost real income over the past decade is cause for concern,” Beeson said.

These economic disparities are evident in schools as well, according to the report. Only 30% of all Collin County eighth graders from 2008 went on to earn a college or vocational degree in 2018. And only 15% of economically disadvantaged students went on to reach that level of education.

“Postsecondary education is increasingly necessary in today's economy, and students who don't have a degree or higher [education] certificate will struggle to earn family-sustaining wages in adulthood in a very demanding labor market,” Beeson said.

At Collin College, steps have been taken to better serve the community, Collin College Chancellor Neil Matkin said. Some changes, such as building more campuses to provide better access, had already begun, while other conversations for the future have been influenced by the findings from this report, Matkin said.

“[This report] helps us target more to close the gaps,” Matkin said. “I live my adult life believing that education is a path to prosperity. ... It’s about figuring out what the barriers are and removing them.”

In 2018, Collin County had 20,000 small businesses that employed fewer than 20 people, data shows. These businesses are at a greater risk of not recovering from the pandemic and had some of the highest rates of unemployment claims, Beeson said.

With rising unemployment comes higher levels of uninsured residents because a majority of those with health insurance receive it through their employers, Beeson said. In Collin County, children in McKinney and Plano are more likely to be uninsured than in other cities, data shows. This can lead to long-term health issues for adults and especially the children of uninsured parents, Beeson said.

“The No. 1 reason that people don’t have health care is the cost of the coverage,” former Cigna Healthcare President LaMonte Thomas said.

Collaboration among nonprofits, hospital systems and other stakeholders in the community is the first step in bridging those gaps, Thomas said.

“Collin County has an opportunity to be a leader in that area,” Thomas said. “If it wants to be intentional about closing health and disparity gaps, [it needs to start] working with hospitals and providers to hire more people that look like the community. That builds trust within the community. ... In absence of those things, I think the success we've seen as a county will start to deteriorate.”

Based on the findings of the report, Every Texan recommends Collin County work toward four policy goals: expanded access to affordable health care, a strengthened pipeline from education to the workforce, more support for at-risk households, and increased access to housing and transportation.

Communities Foundation of Texas officials hope this report will be a catalyst for local organizations to respond to and address changing community needs, said Alfreda Norman, the chair of Communities Foundation of Texas’ board of trustees.

The foundation is a public charity that aims to improve the quality of life by working with donors, nonprofits, philanthropy-focused businesses and civic leaders to help build communities, per the foundation’s website. More information on the report and the organizations involved in its creation can be found here.