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April 2014

Civic Health Index

Metro Seattle Fares Well but "Can Do Better"

April 2014 - NWREporter

Vibrant civic health yields many benefits to communities, according to a report released by Seattle CityClub.

Among the "rewards" a community can reap are improvements in local GDP, economic resilience, upward income mobility, public health and even student achievement.

The Civic Health Index for the Seattle metropolitan region indicates the tri-county area encompassing King, Pierce and Snohomish counties enjoys high marks on many key metrics. Researchers reported the region has "vibrant civic institutions, active voters, innovative social entrepreneurs and a strong culture of volunteerism and philanthropy."

In releasing the report, CityClub, the National Conference on Citizenship, the funding partners, and the members of the Civic Health Index Steering Committee emphasized that maintaining strong civic health requires committed regional leadership, coordinated programs and concerted outreach.

"For too long, civic health has been considered a by-product of prosperity, a 'nice to have' addendum to the good life," one writer suggested, noting data and analysis in the report show the limitations of that attitude.

Researchers examined four components of civic agency: community knowledge, connection, trust and action.

Educational attainment is the single most important predictor of strong civic agency. While metro Seattle boasts one of America's most highly educated and literate communities, as measured by number of residents who have college degrees, it ranks relatively low among states in granting bachelor's degrees. (Many employers import well-educated labor from outside the region and the U.S.)

Moreover, national research shows classroom time and resources devoted to civic education are decreasing, with students from the most disadvantaged families having the least access to civic learning and skill-building.

"This deficit raises the specter of a growing underclass of disenfranchised youth, less likely to get good jobs, and less likely to be able to advocate for themselves through their vote and political voice," the report's authors stated. 

On a brighter note, the report lauded the state's legislature for adding a civic education requirement when it boosted basic education funding. Starting with the graduating class of 2016, high school students will be required to take at least one semester of civics education. Researchers believe such an investment "capitalizes on evidence that teaching civic skills lowers dropout rates and increases academic achievement, especially for at-risk youth."

Among findings covered in the report were:

  • In 2012 the greater Seattle community ranked fifth among 50 similarly-sized communities in residents' "public work contributions," defined as the combined action of citizens who attend public meetings and work with their neighbors on local issues.
  • Greater Seattle ranks in the middle of similarly-sized metropolitan areas in residents' trust of media, public schools, corporations and neighbors.
  • When it comes to civic action, greater Seattle's agency is very strong: In almost every metric - philanthropy, working with neighbors to solve problems, contacting public officials, exercising consumer power - Seattle ranks exceedingly high among its peer metropolitan areas. In voting and volunteering, we are leaders.
  • Neighborliness is not our community's strength. We rank 48th of 51 comparable communities in the frequency of neighbors talking with neighbors and 37th in neighbors exchanging favors with one another frequently.


While this record of civic action is generally impressive, "we can do better," the report states, noting those who are college-educated and say they are middle class are up to five times more likely to take civic action compared to those who say they are working class and have no college experience.

The report devotes a section to each of the four components that are part of the Civic Health Index. Along with recommendations, the publication includes examples of civic agents that are working to educate, engage, enfranchise and empower citizens.

About the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC)

NCoC is a nonpartisan nonprofit whose activities include events, research and reports. Since launching the Civic Health Index in 2006, it now works with partners in more than 30 communities nationwide to use civic data to lead and inspire a public dialogue about the future of citizenship in America and to drive sustainable civic strategies.

About Seattle CityClub

Seattle CityClub engages 47,000 Washingtonians with each other and their communities through public forums, statewide initiatives, online tools and publications that bridge politics, professions and generations. Its mission is to inform, connect and engage the public to strengthen the civic health of the region.