Well, someone finally quantified what has been painfully obvious to me in covering local government: Georgia’s civic health needs a boost.
The Georgia Family Connection Partnership, in conjunction with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, has compiled the Georgia Civic Health Index, the first of its kind in the state that shows residents have some of the lowest rates of civic engagement in the nation. As the report notes, we like to talk politics but don’t turn out to vote, we don’t trust our neighbors, we’re not volunteering and we are not active in our communities. Georgia has some of the lowest rates in social connectedness, community involvement, political action and confidence in institutions.
I can offer first-hand insight into much of this, as public government meeting are sparsely attended unless taxes are being raised or a zoning application draws ire from nearby residents. And while there is a dedicated trove of volunteers in Walton County, they are often few in number. Outside of most church endeavors, there is but a handful of people who seem to consistently dedicate their spare time to bettering the community around them.
The report offers some statistics on the other tenets: Georgia is 41st among all states in voter registration and 38th in voter turnout (though we rank 29th nationally when it comes to local elections). Perhaps very disconcerting is the fact we rank 44th in the U.S. in trusting all or most of our neighbors, according to the study. The only thing trusted less than our neighbors by Georgians is the media.
Some of the relevant patterns from the study, which used information compiled from the Census supplement called the Current Population Survey, include that those with higher income and greater educational attainment are more civically engaged. When you leave the city, 93 percent of rural residents eat dinner with family while those who live inside city limits tend to be more involved with broader community involvement and political action.
What does any of this mean? Civic health is associated with better public health, lower crime rates and youth delinquency as well as better economic resilience, according to the study. More importantly, what we should care about extends beyond what goes on in our house, neighborhood or church. Loganville, Monroe, Social Circle and others cities are just names. It is time to get involved in things that make this country, this state, this county better.