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NCOC Featured Discussion

Just Released Volunteering & Civic Life Data Reveals Volunteering Relatively Stable, America’s Civic Health Weakening

December 16, 2014
Today, the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Census Bureau, released the latest Volunteering and Civic Life in America (VCLA) data. These key civic health data reveal how Americans engage in important civic activities such as voting, volunteering, and interacting with neighbors. Overall, a number of the civic health indicators remain high, but showed signs of weakening.

The VCLA data was collected through the 2013 and 2012 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Surveys on Voting, Volunteering, and Civic Engagement. NCoC and the federal government track civic health data because it is linked to the economic and personal health of individuals and communities.

Americans continue to volunteer and engage in their communities at high rates, but the data shows America’s civic health is facing real headwinds. This year, 16 of the 20 civic health indicators dropped compared to our most recent data collected in 2011 or 2012. While some key indicators remain high, there was a broad decline punctuated by a number of significant drops.

Remaining relatively stable, over 1 in 4 adults or 62 million Americans volunteered a total of 7.7 billion hours in 2013. Additionally, 138 million Americans also engaged in “informal volunteering” in their communities, which includes activities like watching children or helping with shopping. Additionally, the data shows Americans continue to be involved with their family and neighbors. When asked how often they heard from family/friends, over three-fourths (75.7%) reported frequent communication.

While the data shows many Americans continue communicate with family or friends, they are doing these and other activities less. Americans who hear from family or friends frequently saw the third biggest drop of any indicator at 3.3 points since 2011. More than a third of Americans (36.3%) are involved in a school, civic, recreational, religious, or other organization. However this group participation also dropped almost 3 points over two years.

Group participation is a key civic life indicator. Groups provide more than just fun for their members. They are critical to employment. The number of nonprofits, especially membership organizations, in a community has been linked directly to the community’s ability to limit unemployment during recession by as much as 4 percentage points. Many believe this is due to the increased connections and safety nets inherent in group participation. It seems clear that as we silo ourselves, we weaken our economy.

The country’s confidence in public institutions saw the largest decreases across all indicators. From 2011 to 2013 Americans reporting that they had some or a great deal of confidence in the media dropped 7 points from 62% to 55%. Confidence in public schools dropped 3.5 points, though overall it remains high at 84.5%. When asked about corporations 64.5% reported having a great deal or some confidence, which was one of the few increases.

Other key findings include:

50.1% of Americans gave $25 or more to a charitable cause, a decrease of 1.7 points since 2012.

58.5% of Americans sometimes or always voted in local elections, an increase of .7 points since 2011.

87.8% of Americans frequently eat dinner with other household members, a decrease of 1.7 points since 2011.

55.8% of Americans trust most or all of the people in their neighborhood and 12.1% of Americans exchanged favors for neighbors frequently. Both decreased by .9 and 1.9 points respectively since 2011.
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