Poor civic health hurts entire state

(Elkhart) Truth

Every kid who graduates from an Indiana high school for generations has had to pass a basic government class.

An assessment of how the state’s residents are doing after high school shows how the lessons aren’t being put to use.

The 2015 Indiana Civic Health Index was released this spring by the Indiana Bar Foundation, Indiana Supreme Court, Indiana University Northwest and three other entities. The first assessment of the state’s health on this front came in 2011.

It’s a measure of how actively citizens engage in the community, the study states. The study calls itself a check-up and uses measures of community involvement, volunteering, social connectivity, voter registration and turnout, political involvement and confidence in public institutions to assess health the way a doctor would look at blood pressure, weight and heart rate.

Being involved as a citizen is part of what the United States is based on. It’s how our government is designed. “A community with strong civic health is more resilient, more effectively governed and is a better place to live,” the study states.

But it’s not just about having a healthy community for the sake of working better. It has an economic benefit. Places with more civic engagement had unemployment rates that grew more slowly during the 2006 to 2010 period studied.

Not very well, in many instances, and certainly not well enough.

Indiana’s ranking nationally rose from 40th to 20th in percentage of individuals participating in groups, though involvement in school, neighborhood and community associations dropped. The state ranks 44th nationally with just 11.3 percent of people in one of those groups in 2013.

The state ranked 26th in 2013 with 26.9 percent of Hoosiers volunteering in some way. The national average is 25.4 percent. But again, the bad news is how bad Hoosiers are at working with their neighbors to solve problems or make improvements. The state now ranks 47th because only 5.6 percent of its residents do this.

When it comes to voting, Indiana ranked 38th in voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election and last in the country in the 2014 midterm, when only 27.8 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. In 2010, Indiana ranked 48th. It’s an ongoing problem. The state ranks 37th in the number of citizens registered to vote. More Hoosiers say they’re talking about politics than they used to, and the state is above the national average in residents contacting or visiting a public official.

Hoosiers ranked eighth nationally in 2013 for having confidence in corporations, 18th in media and 34th in confidence in the public school system.

The state’s highest ranking, and one of just three in which the state improved since 2010, was for the rate of residents who frequently eat dinner with a member of their household. Nearly 93 percent of Hoosiers said they do that.

As Indiana political columnist Brian Howey pointed out, it’s entirely possible that the primary election in May could matter in Indiana and Hoosier voters would make a difference on the national stage. It’d be a shame to miss such an opportunity by continuing our tradition of horrific voter turnout.

Civic engagement is often linked to education rates, and Indiana continues to lag on that. But you don’t have to have a college degree to go to a public meeting, make a charitable donation or join a group. Feisty Hoosiers rank above the national average with 14.1 percent having boycotted a product or service in 2013.

If we don’t work together to solve neighborhood issues, to vote for our officials, our community will suffer. The numbers show we can get a lot healthier. Like our physical health, the way to do that is get moving, get active.

Our state’s health, and the health of our communities, depends on it. We can’t afford, socially or economically, not to do better at being involved as citizens.

This was distributed by the Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.