Maintaining good civic health: more civic engagement means more economic prosperity

On February 9, 2015, NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI), a non-partisan public policy organization, recently published the 2015 North Carolina Civic Health Index.  The report relayed how strengthening civic engagement initiatives in North Carolina could simultaneously improve our statewide economy and North Carolina’s overall civic health.

NC Civic Health Index
From NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues

The Index drew attention to a key element of civic engagement: how vital civic health is to a community’s overall social and economic vitality.  This Index measured how social demographics coincided with forms of civic participation to show that our state economy would benefit greatly if a wider pool of people–spanning across racial, economic, and generational lines and regions– became active stakeholders in the wellbeing of their community.  Engaging in local issues, working together collaboratively and efficiently and involving themselves in political and economic decision-making, would cause the health and vibrancy of this community to soar.  Once civic health is high, constant civic participation becomes inherent and “civic engagement becomes a virtuous cycle” (page 6).

The report showed several important findings, one being how North Carolina fares in comparison to the rest of the nation.  Indicators drawn from special census surveys, like the 2013 Current Population Survey and other CPS surveys that demonstrate how we broadly match the nation’s trends and averages in civic engagement and volunteering[1].  However, there is still room for improvement.  There are still voices not being heard or welcomed into the pulsating rhythm of our civic body.

According to the report, it is crucial that we increase civic participation among North Carolina’s minority populations, especially of minority youth.  Data revealed that community members in lower income brackets and/or with less formal education are less likely to volunteer.  For instance, according to the index, there is a “persistent race/ethnicity divide” in people’s trust of their neighborhood communities.  African-Americans are only half as likely as whites, 31.5% vs. 63.9% respectively, to trust most or all of the people in their neighborhood (page 28).

To lessen these kinds of disparities along age, race and socio-economic lines, the report suggests that all citizens have equal access to community-based leadership and volunteer opportunities.  The Index recommends that North Carolina communities provide more leadership programs based in neighborhoods and/or as part of workforce training.  It recommends this be accomplished by providing paid time-off for employees to volunteer in local communities, recognizing and rewarding citizens for their community service in the community, and by simply inviting one’s colleagues and neighbors to participate in volunteer opportunities.

Nearly half of the volunteers surveyed as part of the Index stated that they “chose to participate simply because they were asked to do so.” (page 32)  If we want to all citizens to be engaged, we must engage one another and hold each other accountable to be civically responsible.  While we may inherently believe in the altruism of humanity, it’s obviously not panning-out to be easy or effortless.  Let’s set a standard for our peers and neighbors to live up to.  Let’s bring all parties into the conversation so that civic engagement is no longer noblesse oblige, but becomes a requisite responsibility of all citizens in order to maintain a stable economy.

The 2015 Civic Health Index has useful recommendations about how to better integrate civic participation and volunteering into our schools, our jobs, and our local governments.  Hopefully, it will give North Carolinians an appreciation for the economic, as well as the ethical and moral imperative, of civic engagement.

[1] i.e. group participation, interactions with neighbors, volunteering, and confidence in institutions (14)