NCOC Featured Discussion

Can Volunteering Help Us Weather Tough Economic Times?

National Conference on Citizenship Calls on Community Leaders to Further Investigate Perceived Connection between Civic Engagement and Economic Resilience

September 16, 2011
WASHINGTON, DC – September 16, 2011 – A report released today by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) finds that states with higher levels of civic engagement are more resilient in an economic downturn. The report identifies five measures of civic engagement – attending meetings, helping neighbors, registering to vote, volunteering and voting – which appear to protect against unemployment and contribute to overall economic resilience.

The report calls on community and business leaders to use these findings to inform a public discussion of how civic health can help improve the economy.

NCoC will take the first step in fostering a public discussion on the value of civic health through a series of public forums that are part of the 66th National Conference on Citizenship beginning today in Philadelphia. The conference will examine findings from Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools, a national report on the value of civic education in schools. Next week, the conference will continue in Phoenix and release the second Arizona Civic Health Index, developed in partnership with the Center for the Future of Arizona, a “do tank” that focuses on issues critical to Arizona’s quality of life.

“Our analysis should serve as a call to action for every community in America,” said Michael Weiser, NCoC Chairman, “There is growing evidence of a connection between social capital and economic resilience, and we believe our analysis presents strong correlations for how the civic health of a community can help a community weather tough economic times.”

The NCoC report, “Civic Health and Unemployment: Can Engagement Strengthen the Economy?” was produced in partnership with Civic Enterprises, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, Saguaro Seminar, and the National Constitution Center. It examines the five civic indicators listed above in comparison with eight economic indicators and finds strong positive correlations between civic engagement and a state’s economic resilience.

Of these five civic health indicators, working with neighbors was the most important factor in predicting economic resilience, as an increase of one percent in neighbors working together to solve community problems was associated with a decrease of .256 percent in the unemployment rate. Public meeting attendance emerged as the second most important factor, followed by volunteering and registering to vote as top important predictors of unemployment change.

The NCoC report found that of the states with the highest rates of volunteering and working with neighbors, Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and South Dakota had the smallest increase in unemployment between 2006 and 2010. Of the states with the lowest rates of volunteering and working with neighbors, Alabama, California, Florida, Nevada and Rhode Island had the highest increase in unemployment.

The report findings are based on an analysis of data from this year’s annual Civic Life in America survey, released by NCoC, the Corporation for National and Community Service, U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Labor Statistics.

While today’s report isn’t definitive research and is presented to guide public discussion, it includes several observations about how civic health can promote economic resiliency including:
• Participation in civil society can develop skills, confidence, and habits that make individuals employable and strengthen the networks that help them find jobs. 59% of volunteers in national service programs believe their volunteer service will improve their chance of finding jobs, perhaps because it helps them learn marketable skills or because it broadens their professional contact networks, or both.
• Participation in civil society spreads information. Volunteering, attending meetings, and working together with neighbors on community problems are valuable ways of learning about local issues, which can help citizens hold their government accountable—not to mention lead to new employment opportunities and business relationships.
• Communities with stronger civil societies are more likely to have good government. Active, organized citizens can demand and promote good governance, and serve as partners in addressing public problems. For example, states with more civic engagement have much higher performing public schools, regardless of demographics, spending and other factors.

“Civic engagement is more than a feel-good exercise or simply raking a neighbor’s yard, it is about human connection and building trust. These are the same traits that have made America a nation of innovators, driving the expansion of both economic and social capital,” said NCoC Executive Director David B. Smith. “NCoC stands committed to partnering with economists, researchers, public officials, and city planners to further investigate the connection between civic health and economic prosperity. Given the mixed data from this year’s Civic Life in America survey, while we have reason to applaud Americans’ continued civic engagement, we also have reasons to be concerned.”

This year’s Civic Life in America survey, released yesterday, finds that while many Americans continue to remain civically engaged, leading indicators tracked by the survey are showing a decline, save for online communication. The largest drops are related to discussion of politics with friends and family: Nearly 3 of 4 Americans surveyed say they don’t talk about political issues frequently, and 1 of 3 noted they don’t converse about politics with friends or family at all. To view the Civic Life in America survey and all related data, please visit: civic.serve.gov.

“As the national debate turns to jobs and restoring civility, our leaders need to understand that one answer for our political and economic woes begins with restoring America’s tradition of service and civic engagement,” said John Bridgeland, Former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Current National Advisory Chair, NCoC. “It not only gives communities a boost, it may also lessen the effects of the economic downturn.”

Report to serve as a starting point for weeklong examination of civic health
This year’s Civic Life in America release comes in advance of a series of events co-convened by NCoC and its partners. These events introduce a week-long examination of the Civic Life in America findings, as well as a charge to create actionable plans for promoting improved civic health across America:
• Civic Innovators Forum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 15-16: This year’s Civic Innovators Forum, convened by NCoC, the Case Foundation, and Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement in partnership with the National Constitution Center, will explore the trends and challenges of civic engagement. It will also showcase the findings of Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools, a new report that will explore how we set ourselves, and our communities, on the path to success through innovative and effective civic learning. It was developed in partnership with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, CIRCLE, American Bar Association, and the Lenore Annenberg Institute for Civics at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
• Civic Connector Online Forum, September 16-21: The Web site of the National Conference on Citizenship, www.NCoC.net, will host an online forum to solicit public feedback on the report and to inform debate at the annual meeting.
• 66th Annual National Conference on Citizenship, Phoenix, Arizona, September 22-23: For the first time, the National Conference on Citizenship will take place outside of Washington, D.C. and is being produced in collaboration with the Center for the Future of Arizona. The Bipartisan Policy Center, the Case Foundation, and Clearwire are sponsors of this year’s conference, and the theme, “Redefining America’s Social Compact,” will examine the roles and steps communities and policymakers need to take to foster civic engagement. This year’s conference will include the release of the second Arizona Civic Health Index, which continues an in-depth examination of state trends in comparison to the Civic Life in America data.

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About Civic Life in America: Key Findings on the Civic Health of the Nation
Civic Life in America is an annual assessment detailing the many ways people get involved and work to make a difference in communities across the country. Data for the U.S., regions, state, and city (metropolitan area) level were collected primarily through the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. More information can be found at civic.serve.gov.

About National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC)
At the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), we believe everyone has the power to make a difference in how their community and country thrive. We are a dynamic, non-partisan nonprofit working at the forefront of our nation’s civic life. We continuously explore what shapes today’s citizenry, define the evolving role of the individual in our democracy, and uncover ways to motivate greater participation. Through our events, research, and reports, NCoC expands our nation’s contemporary understanding of what it means to be a citizen. We seek new ideas and approaches for creating greater civic health and vitality throughout the United States. More information can be found at www.NCoC.net.
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