Minnesota comes off well in a new issue brief, “Civic Health and Unemployment: Can Engagement Strengthen the Economy?,” released this week by the National Conference on Citizenship in partnership with CIRCLE (the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement – Tufts University), Civic Enterprises, Saguaro Seminar, and the National Constitution Center. Drawing on data from the Census Current Population Supplement, “strong positive correlations were found between civic engagement and resilience against unemployment. States and localities [including Minnesota and Minneapolis] with more civic engagement in 2006 saw less growth in unemployment between 2006 and 2010. This was true even after adjusting for the economic factors that others have found to predict unemployment rates over this period.”
While the authors repeatedly emphasize the need for caution (e.g., “the evidence in favor of the idea that civic engagement actually boosts economic resilience is circumstantial, suggestive, and far from conclusive”), they end the brief with a call for more research and discussion on this issue:
Even at a time when the global economy has been buffeted by strong and dangerous forces, all communities have capital and skills that can be deployed to create or preserve jobs. Investors may be more willing to create jobs locally if they trust other people and the local government, if they feel attached to their community, if they know about opportunities and can disseminate information efficiently, and if they feel that the local workforce is skilled. All these factors correlate with civic engagement. Those correlations, plus the other evidence cited in this report, lend plausibility to the thesis that civic health matters for economic resilience. This topic deserves more consideration by researchers, policymakers, and the public.
At a public forum with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in Minneapolis last week, there was public discussion of a related issue, though not one to make us proud. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, “Uneven Pain: Unemployment by Metropolitan Area and Race”, in 2009 black residents of Minneapolis/St. Paul were 3.1 times as likely as whites to be without jobs. That was the highest disparity of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S.—and it can’t be explained away by educational disparities, since significant unemployment disparities exist among blacks and whites with comparable levels of education. Similar patterns are evident statewide, with unemployment in 2009 at approximately 7% for whites, 22% for blacks, and 15% for Latinos. (See a national map here.)
Civic engagement is certainly something to celebrate and continue. Yet true civic health also means offering opportunity for all. At least two of our upcoming events will address aspects of that goal. On October 27th, we’re holding a webinar on ways higher education can contribute to rural economic vitality, and on December 7th, we’ll convene a strategy session on campus-community partnerships that support equitable economic development along the Central Corridor LRT line in the Twin Cities. Of course, participants in our regional forums will also discuss ways to address the issues they consider most important—and we invite comments here. What issues around civic engagement and the economy do you think deserve more attention?
– Julie Plaut