States with More Civic Engagement Have Experienced Less Unemployment

Civic Health and Unemployment: Can Engagement Strengthen the Economy?

September 16, 2011
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Based on published literature, eight economic factors that were likely to predict unemployment since 2006 were assembled for this study. These factors explain about 38% of the variation in the change in unemployment rates among the states. The factors that emerged as statistically significant predictors of unemployment change were the size of the state’s oil and gas industry and the proportion of the state’s adult population which held a high school diploma. The housing bubble (measured as the inflation in housing prices since 1991) and residential mobility (the percentage of people who had moved in the past five years) missed being statistically significant predictors by relatively small margins. The other demographic factors included in the analysis and states’ gross product per capita were not related to unemployment change. (2)

When the five civic engagement measures were added—volunteering, attending public meetings, working with neighbors to address community problems, registering to vote, and voting—the model explained more (64%) of the variation in unemployment change. In other words, understanding a state’s civic health in 2006 helped predict how it weathered the recession even if one also knew its economic conditions in 2006. (3) In a regression model with the eight economic factors and the five civic engagement measures, the civic indicators strongly predicted unemployment change, while none of the economic factors were significantly related to unemployment change.

Many forms of civic engagement correlate with each other: the same people who attend meetings also volunteer and vote. Therefore, it is helpful to examine the civic engagement measures one at a time, controlling for all the economic factors. Using this method:

• An increase of one point in the state’s rate of working with neighbors was associated with a decrease of 0.256 percentage points in the unemployment rate when the economic factors were controlled. (4)

• An extra percentage point of public meeting attendance corresponded to 0.239 points less unemployment when the economic factors were controlled. (5)

• An increase of one point in volunteering was associated with 0.192 percentage points less unemployment, controlling for the eight economic variables. (6)

• An increase of one percent in the voter registration rate was associated with a decrease of about one tenth of one point in unemployment. (7)
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