“Millennials” represent 95 million Americans born between 1982 and 2003. In a recent article in the The Atlantic, author Ron Fournier writes about the lack of faith this generation has in public service or elected office. Fournier finds that:
- Millennials, in general, are fiercely committed to community service.
- They don’t see politics or government as a way to improve their communities, their country, or the world.
- The best and brightest Millennials are rejecting public service as a career path. Just as Baby Boomers retire from government and politics, Washington faces a rising-generation “brain drain” (and a breed of politicians who represent polarized points of view rushing in to fill the void).
- The only way Millennials might engage Washington is if they first radically change it.
Another factor that has to be taken into consideration about Millennials is they have grown up in a period of unprecedented technological change and entered adulthood during the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and at a time when their nation was fighting two wars simultaneously. (NCOC)
There is a profound quote in the article from one observer who stated “Millennials will produce radical reconstruction of civil institutions & government.” That scenario is not only revolutionary (in a positive sense), but also accurate with today’s political environment. Today we have:
- A federal government shutdown
- Ongoing party gridlock that slows (and halts) government processes to the detriment of the citizenry;
- The lack of interest to collaborate, let alone compromise; and
- A general disrespect for opposing viewpoints
This is all contrary to the teachings of civics. Yet, that education is almost nonexistent today –-absent as an ongoing theme throughout primary and secondary education. Young people are being exposed and they are being raised by parents who had little or no exposure themselves to civic education who cannot pass along wisdom or examples about the importance of civic education and civic engagement. I see it and hear it in my state and local government class @FGCU.
In light of the current situation, two valid questions about civics education and practices confront our society. The first question is whether finding solutions to our political and governing crises can benefit from more people, especially younger people, increasing their knowledge of civics principles and putting that knowledge into practice. The second question addresses the common question from a potential participant: “WIIFM,” or, what’s in it for me?
Does civics have value to society beyond its governing institutions and civil behavior? Research now being reported is showing a positive correlation between individual income/affluence of civic engagement as well as a strong relationship between civic health and a thriving economy.
In Florida, there are plenty of warning signs that those benefits are not being realized, even understood across the state. Florida (as are other states) is missing a golden opportunity to institute and instill civics education and practices particularly among their Millennial generation. Florida’s case is a bit more challenging, however, when you view the research.
In the Florida Civic Health Index 2011 – The Next Generation, produced by the National Conference on Citizenship took a close look at Florida’s Millennials and found:
- Florida Millennials have the “depressing distinction” of being the most disengaged group in one of the most civically disengaged states in the nation.
- Civic engagement levels of Millennials in Florida are between 7 and 20 percentage points below that of Millennials in the most engaged states in the nation.
Factors that may provide insight and explanation into poorer state-wide showings for disengagement include the number of residents who relocated to Florida from another state/community who have not established their roots here or they are not as deep nor their civic commitment as strong; a larger immigrant population over other states may display similar traits of other relocated residents but also include adult family members/parents who have never been exposed to civics education and do not understand or embrace the concept, possess the knowledge or experience or examples they can pass down to younger members of their families including their children.
I won’t dive too deep into the report findings but summarize their research criteria. Four separate areas of civic engagement were studied and compared to Florida Millennials:
- Electoral Engagement – The percentage of eligible U.S. citizens over 18 years old who are registered to vote, and percentage turnout among eligible voters.
- Finding: Less than half of the Millennial generation in Florida was registered to vote in 2010, and of those who were registered, a little over one-in-five actually voted,
- Non-electoral political engagement – The percentage who contacted a public official, and percentage that bought or boycotted a product or service based on the social values of a company.
- Finding: This behavior is almost non-existent, e.g., only 3% contacted or visited a public official. The result of this low showing is public officials are simply not likely to hear about the concerns and passions of younger Floridians.
- Group Engagement – Percentage who belong to any group, i.e., religious, school, neighborhood or sports/recreation.
- Finding: Florida’s Millennials have one of the lowest rates (6%, ranked 48th in the nation) of participating in any type of civic, community, school, sports or religious group.
- Community engagement – The percentage who reported undertaking any volunteer activity, percentage attending a public meeting, percentage exchanging favors with neighbors, and percentage working with neighbors to fix a problem in the community.
- Finding: Millennials in Florida are ranked among the bottom ten states for community engagement, such as volunteering, attending public meetings and working with neighbors in the community.
The research also factored in four (4) characteristics they identify that promote or impact a person’s civic engagement:
- 1. Education - Finding: There is clearly a strong correlation between educational attainment and civic participation. Among the attributes measured, education has the most effect on voter registration and turnout.
- Family Income - Finding: Fairly constant across all modes of civic engagement and across generations: the less affluent are less engaged and tend to be the most marginalized in terms of their levels of engagement.
- Race/Ethnicity - Finding: While race and ethnicity have been found to be a leading cause of variations in the level of civic engagement nationally, with minorities exhibiting lower levels of civic engagement, those findings disappear among Florida’s Millennials., where civic engagement among minorities here eclipse that of white people.
- Gender - Finding: Gender differences in patterns of civic engagement have largely disappeared (attributed to women gains in income, job advancement, education). Indeed, to the extent that they exist at all among Millennials, it is women who engage at higher rates, although the differences are quite small. The most noticeable gender gaps were for volunteering (7%), registration (5%), and group participation (4%) and do favors for neighbors (5%)
Finally, the researchers considered the extent to which social networks and personal connections drive civic engagement and civic health. They defined Social Connectedness as private things people do in relation to one another. These are informal interactions that tighten the bonds in a community. So when levels of social connectedness are high, so is civic health, and conversely, having relatively weak social connectedness can fray the civic health in a community. Interestingly, the three indicators they identify:
- Frequency of eating dinner with other household members
- Frequency of communicating with friends and family via the Internet
- Frequency of talking to neighbors
So, does civic engagement translate into tangible benefits for the individual and for their community/state? As stated earlier, there is research showing a positive correlation between income/affluence and of civic engagement for individuals and a strong relationship between a community’s civic health and a thriving local economy. For the Individual:
- Civic engagement can develop skills, confidence and habits that make individuals employable— and signal desirable qualities to potential employers.
- Participation in civil society is strongly correlated with trust in other people. High levels of trust and social capital, in turn, may facilitate economic transactions and promote innovation in business.
- Civic engagement can encourage people to feel attached to their communities, and create an infrastructure that encourages people to invest, spend and hire.
While the data is still a little sketchy, early evidence does point to a positive correlation that’s worthy of additional research and discussion on a community-wide level.