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Report finds potential cracks in Missouri's blue-collar base for civic participation

A report released in October by Missouri State University and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) finds that while Missouri out-performs national trends for volunteering, community engagement and voter turnout, some forms of civic involvement, such as one-on-one interactions with neighbors, may be waning.

The Missouri Civic Health Index is the first of its kind and is designed to help the state document the health of Missouri’s civic sector. The report follows the September release of the report Civic Life in America: Key Findings on the Civic Health of the Nation, a report released jointly by NCoC and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which provides an annual measure of civic habits, much as the government measures economic behavior.

Research showed that Missouri’s college graduates are five times more likely to volunteer than those without high school diplomas, and are nine times as likely to attend a public meeting. Household income levels also influence volunteering rates, with those in households with incomes of $75,000 or more having a 23 percent higher volunteer rate than those with incomes lower than $35,000. However, Missouri families with incomes less than $35,000 are twice as likely to do favors for their neighbors than those among families with incomes greater than $75,000. And, Missourians without a college education are significantly more likely than their peers in other states to be a member of and hold a leadership position in a social group. Thus, Missouri has a stronger blue-collar base for civic participation than most other states have.

The report identifies statewide efforts to foster civic engagement including improved voting procedures, the establishment of the Missouri Community Service Commission and the Missouri Service-Learning Regional Centers, and a statewide civics test required in public schools. However, the report finds that while the state performs relatively well on several civic health indicators, including voter turnout and volunteering, the economy and looming cuts to higher education may undercut the ability for many within Missouri’s middle class to pursue civic engagement.

Key Research Findings

The report includes economic, geographic and generational analysis to see how income, place and age may affect our contributions to community. Findings include:

  • The Springfield metro area had higher rates of voter turnout and volunteering than Kansas City or St. Louis, and led when it came to working with neighbors to fix something in their community. St. Louis leads when it comes to group participation, with Kansas City having the highest percentage of residents who talk to neighbors frequently. However, non-metro area residents were more likely to talk with neighbors than those in urban areas.
  • There is a strong positive relationship between education and the frequency with which people talk to friends and family via the Internet – those with college degrees are 53 percent more likely to talk frequently than those with a high school diploma.
  • Volunteering in Missouri generally increases across generations, with Millennials (ages 16-30) having the lowest rates of volunteering. Baby Boomers (ages 46-64) are most likely to attend a public meeting, with Millennials also the least likely to do so.
  • Overall, Missouri follows national trends closely in the portion of people who participate in civil society (60.1 percent non-participants, 31.9 percent participants, and 8.0 percent leaders). Within the leader segment, 27.7 percent have never been to college, which is 10 percent higher than the national average, which seems to suggest that Missouri’s civic leadership is more diverse in education and social class.

Declines in manufacturing, construction and transportation jobs may weaken the economic foundation for civic participation by blue-collar members of Missouri’s middle class. And likely deep cuts in state funding for higher education will present challenges for education of future civic leaders in the state.
The complete report, “2010 Missouri Civic Health Assessment,” is available online at The report is based upon an independent analysis by Missouri State University’s sociology program which was further supported by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) analysis of the Census Current Population Survey (CPS) data. A series of conferences will be held statewide and on the campus of Missouri State University in late winter/early spring of 2011 to discuss the findings and implications for the state.