Do You Live in a Civic Desert?
““Civic Deserts” — communities without opportunities for civic engagement — are increasingly common in the United States. The continued decline in a wide range of important indicators of civic health and connectivity threatens our prosperity, safety, and democracy.” (p. 4)
A new report “Civic Deserts: America’s Civic Health Challenges” was released last week at the 2017 annual NCoC conference. The report by Matthew N. Atwell, John Bridgeland and Peter Levine was produced in partnership with Civic Enterprises, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and the MCJ Amelior Foundation.
Some of the findings highlighted in the report include:
- “28 percent of Americans say that they belong to any group that has leaders whom they consider both accountable and inclusive” (p. 4)
- “From 1974 to 2004, membership in at least one community organization or group had decreased by more than 13 percentage points.” (p. 4)
- The report estimates that 60% of rural young Americans and almost a third of urban and suburban Americans perceive their communities to be civic deserts
- “Both American history education and civics education have been largely stagnant in participation and achievement since the 1990s;
- The percent of Americans who read a newspaper every day has declined in tandem with dwindling rates of trust in all forms of news media;
- Confidence in all branches of government continued to decline, as turnout in both presidential and congressional elections dropped in 2016 and 2014, respectively;
- The percent of Americans who spend time online and use social media platforms continued to rise, raising the possibility of the potential of new technologies to bolster civic engagement in new ways; and
- Volunteering in the United States has fallen significantly from nearly 30 percent of the population in 2005 to less than 25 percent in 2015.” (p. 6)
The Democracy Collaborative released their latest report, Cities Building Community Wealth (November 2015) written by Executive Vice President and Senior Fellow Marjorie Kelly and Manager of Community Development Programs Sarah McKinley. The report profiles the work of local officials who have taken up the community wealth building approach to creating inclusive and sustainable economies. Already, this report has received favorable coverage from Forbes, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Next City, and YES! Magazine. The report will be the centerpiece of a convening involving mayors, directors of economic development, scholars and practitioners on January 29, 2016, co-hosted by the CUNY School of Law Community and Economic Development Clinic. Find out more about the convening here, and read the report here.
The Next System Project released a collection of essays by Co-Chair Gus Speth entitled Getting to the Next System: Guideposts on the way to a new political economy. This second report in the Next System Project research series outlines the nature of system change, pathways forward, and a vision for a new American Dream. Read more below. The Next System Project also published a poll, adapted from Getting to the Next System, that allows community groups and activists to assess how their work contributes to system change. In other Next System Project developments, co-chair Gar Alperovitz, in an article in Al Jazeera, notes local experiments around the country that draw from traditional socialism, but promote democratic ownership in a “radically decentralized, populist and very American form.” And on November 9, Gar participated in an online panel as part of New Economy Week. Download this report here.
Today, the annual Volunteering and Civic Life in America research was released by NCoC and the Corporation for National & Community Service.
Follow this link to view the full report.
The research shows that the overall rate of volunteering is slightly lower than the previous year, yet remains strong and stable. Volunteering expands across all generations with 62.6 million adults (25.4%) participating in such activities – contributing a total of 7.7 billion hours.
Key demographic findings from the report include:
- Americans 35-44 years old had the highest volunteering rate (31.3%) followed by those 45-54 years old (29.4%). One in five of “Millennials”, or those of ages 16-31, (21.7%) volunteered.
- Older generations contributed the highest average number of volunteer hours with those 65-74 years old providing 92 hours and those 75 and older providing 90 hours.
- The volunteer rate among young adults (ages 18-24) attending college was 26.7%, nearly double the volunteer rate of young adults not attending college (13.5%). This gap reflects the important role of colleges and universities as catalysts for service, and challenges us to do more to engage more young people not attending college in service activities.
Other civic health indicators from the report found that two in three Americans (68.5%) have dinner with family or friends frequently. Meanwhile, three in four (75.7%) see or hear from friends and family at least a few times a week, and more than a third (36.3%) are involved in a school, civic, recreational, religious, or other organizations.
At this time of heightened unease, the civic health of our country and engagement of our citizens is particularly important. All sectors of society should redouble their efforts to promote greater connections among Americans. Our civic health is strongest when citizens engage with their neighbors and government.
Our friends at The Democracy Collaborative authored a white paper The Anchor Dashboard, designed to help colleges and universities assess the long-term impact of their programs, initiatives, and economic activity on the well-being of low-income children, families, and communities. The concept of anchor institutions aligns nicely with AASCU’s conception of our member institutions as Stewards of Place (see this 2002 monograph here).
The Dashboard identifies 12 indicators that anchor institutions can use to assess current local conditions and evaluate
institutional progress in aligning their activities with community needs. Made possible by support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the report draws on over 75 in-depth interviews with leaders of anchor institutions, national nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, and community organizations.
The paper will be the centerpiece of an upcoming briefing this fall at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, DC (rescheduled because of the federal government shutdown). The Anchor Dashboard has been profiled in Next City and on the San Francisco Federal Reserve’s “What Works” website.
Download the report