Check the Stats: Public Trust
By no means complete, below are a few facts that illustrate how an engaged public can contribute to the community. See the Readings for other examples and best practices.
Challenges To Encouraging More Public Participation
The percentage of Americans who attend a public meeting at least once a year declined from 22% in 1973 to 13% 1993.
Fewer than half as many citizens attend PTA meetings today as compared to the 1960s.
The number of Americans who volunteer for a nonprofit organization has dropped by half since the 1970s.
Voter turnout in the U.S. has declined to less than 50%, even though most barriers to voting have been removed.
By a margin of 3 to 1, Americans believe their fellow citizens are untrustworthy, and they feel the same about most institutions, especially government.
Findings: Civic Engagement and Sprawl
The suburban pattern of sprawl has increased work commutes by 26% and shopping commutes by 29%, leaving less time for civic activities.
One study suggests that "each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10%."
Robert Putnam argues that "sprawl is associated with increasing social segregation, and social homogeneity appears to reduce incentives for civic involvement."
A Time/CNN poll of people living in suburbs found that 77% agreed with this statement: "I wish I had more contact with people in my communities."
Findings: The Media and Involvement
The more citizens watch TV news, the more active they are in the community. However, the percentage of people who watch the nightly news has declined from 60% in 1993 to 38% in 1998.
In the last fifty years, newspaper reading has fallen by 57%.
One study shows that each additional hour of watching TV per day results in a 10% reduction in civic participation.
Findings: How We Live
An involved citizenry solves social problems much more easily than a disengaged public.
Robert Putnam: "Social capital is second only to poverty in the breadth and depth of its effects on children’s lives."
Engaged communities are statistically safer communities.
Economic studies suggest strong social ties positively affect employment for individuals and communities.
Engagement fosters tolerance. The least tolerant people and communities are the least connected.
Civic engagement has a strong relationship to people’s health. Not coincidentally, during the years participation has declined, depression, suicide, obesity, and other health concerns have been on the rise.