How Opportunity Youth Engage in Civic Life & What Stands in Their Way
A vibrant and thriving democracy requires a deeply engaged and active citizenry. “Civic engagement” encompasses all the ways we identify and understand common problems in our communities, nation, and world. Robust civic engagement not only creates healthy societies; it benefits the individuals who engage, through the development of skills and knowledge, networks and relationships, and feelings of purpose and meaning.
However, survey data show that civic engagement is highly unequal among young Americans. One of the primary divisions is between young people who have ever attended college and those who dropped out of high school or did not continue their educations beyond high school (about 42 percent of the resident youth population in 2012)--youth who we refer to as "opportunity youth".
National survey data show that a majority of non-college youth opportunuity youth are basically disengaged from traditional civic life, with 37 percent completely disconnected, and only 13.5 percent engaged in forms of conventional civic leadership.
But standardized survey questions may not capture the contributions and opinions of poor and working-class youth, who may find words like volunteering and civic engagement inapplicable or confusing, even though they engage in their communities. Also, survey research is not ideal for determining why young people do or do not participate.
So, CIRCLE conducted semi-structured conversations with non-college youth to we explore why they do or do not participate, interviewing 121 non-college youth in 20 focus groups in 4 cities between fall 2008 and June 2010.
Overall, this study finds that non-college young people lack organized and institutional opportunities to address large-scale social issues—reinforcing previous research. They often report helping individuals, and they discuss social issues in their own networks, but generally they do not connect these activities to making systemic or society-wide changes.
Review the findings in the link below along with numerous quote-infographics of real sentiments of young people today.