A new report released by the National Conference on Citizenship, The Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University, CIRCLE, and the National Constitution Center, finds that civic engagement may help decrease levels of unemployment, contribute to economic resiliency, and help communities weather economic recessions.
The study found that there was a statistically significant negative relationship between civic health and unemployment (the better the civic health, the lower the unemployment rate) in U.S. states and metropolitan areas. The effects of the civic health indicators were statistically significant even after controlling for eight economic factors that other studies have shown to be related to the recent economic downturn, such as housing inflation, the size of state’s oil and natural gas industries, the proportion of high school graduates, residential mobility, and state’s GDP.
Specifically, the study found that a 1% increase in a state’s rate of working with neighbors was associated with a 0.26% decrease in the unemployment rate, a 1% increase in attendance at public meetings was associated with a 0.24% decrease in the unemployment rate, a 1% increase in volunteering was associated with a 0.19% decrease in the unemployment rate, and a 1% increase in voter registration was associated with a 0.10% decrease in the unemployment rate, controlling for the economic indicators.
The authors cite research on social capital and civic engagement to explain why civic engagement matters for unemployment. Specifically, they argue that:
· “participation in civil society can develop skills, confidence, and habits that make individuals employable and strengthen the networks that help them find jobs,”
· that “people get jobs through social networks” (e.g., Granovetter’s weak ties argument),
· that “participation in civil society spreads information,”
· that “participation in civil society is strongly correlated in trust with other people,”
· that “communities and political jurisdictions with stronger civil societies are more likely to have good governments”
· and that “civic engagement can encourage people to feel attached to their communities”
The authors are careful to note that correlation does not necessarily imply causation and that their results are intended to begin a discussion on the role that civic engagement plays in economic development. Nonetheless, this is an important study that should hopefully be part of any policy discussion in states and local communities of the best way to create sustainable and prosperous communities.
The full report can be found on the NCoC website at: http://www.ncoc.net/unemployment