New report maps Missouri ‘civic health’ landscape

A new report compiled by Missouri State University, in conjunction with the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), finds that the Show-Me state ranks higher than national averages across many indicators of community engagement. But continued economic declines in the state, and a further disintegration of blue-collar jobs threaten its civic health.

In a first-look analysis of how citizens of Missouri engage with their communities and their government, 2010 Missouri Civic Health Index found that the state out-performed the national average in measures of volunteerism, voting, building social capital and being well informed on current events. But when looking at historical trends, the gap between Missouri and national measures of civic health has narrowed.

While still slightly above the national average, volunteerism in the state is at its lowest point in eight years (28.8%). Among other measures of Civic Engagement, such as working with neighbors to fix community problems, attending public meetings, voting and attending political gatherings, Missouri mirrors national trends with 60.1% non-participants, 31.9% participants and 8% leaders.

However, a closer examination finds that Missouri civic leaders have more varied levels of education than national cohorts. More than one-fourth of group officers and committee members have never been to college and about 5 percent of Missouri’s non-college-educated adults are group leaders. This data suggest that, “Missouri’s civic leadership is more diverse in education and social class, and is therefore likely to be more representative of the population as a whole than in many other states,” the report said.

When comparing civic participation and community engagement with income levels, data shows Missouri to have a strong blue-collar base than most other states. Households income levels above $75,000 have a 23 percent higher volunteer rate than those with incomes below $35,000. But those in the lower income bracket are twice as likely to do favors for their neighbors than those among families with higher incomes.

David Smith, Executive Director of NCoC says the Missouri report confirms what many states are seeing during this time of economic hardship.

“In Missouri, as in other states across our nation, we find those with the least means doing the most for neighbors and community,” he said. “This report helps us to define modern citizenship as we examine how government, business, and citizens can work together to foster a civil society.”

The recent economic downturn has facilitated a growing distrust of banks, corporations and business, the report said. And a continued decline in political trust has led to a weakening of social capital at the community level. Meanwhile a deteriorating physical public infrastructure in the nations roads, transit systems, dams and recreation ares could have ramifications for civic participation, nationwide.

“Missouri has had an established middle-class linked to our manufacturing and construction sectors. As these workers are displaced, they need to be retrained or re-educated for employment in the growing service sector,” Michael Stout, report author and assistant professor at Missouri State University, said. “Otherwise the state could experience extended periods of joblessness, which would undermine trust in public institutions and private companies and dampen enthusiasm for civic participation.”

In addition to mapping Missouri’s civil engagement landscape, the report also suggested a policy framework of interdependence, urging lawmakers to craft policies that enhance civic participation. The “Tripartite Institutional Structure” outlined how civil society is tied to the market and public sector. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the balance among the three institutional spheres has been thrown off,” the report warns. “We have been neglecting civil society, and the market and state spheres may be suffering as a result.”

To address the tripartite institutional structure imbalance, the report says leaders should craft policies that “invest in the civic infrastructure of communities while simultaneously considering the bigger institutional picture, and working to restore a sustainable balance among the private, public, and state spheres of society.”

The Missouri report is the second state-level report to analyze civic health. Last week a similar report was published in North Carolina. And in September 2010, the NCoC published its first National Civic Health Assessment.

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