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Understanding a Diverse Generation – Youth Civic Engagement in the United States (2011)


Over one-third (77%) of all those in the Millennial generation in 2010 were involved in some form of civic activity. As numbers of older Americans continue to rise, it will be increasingly vital for local governments to capture this civic-minded workforce to help with age-related causes. In this report, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), provides a deeper understanding of young American’s civic engagement in “service activities, membership in groups and associations, discussion of issues and political participation” (page 5).

Key Points

The Millennial generation is a large and diverse group, and should not be approached as a homogenous group. CIRCLE analyzed the on Census Bureau’s 2008 and 2010 Current Population Survey (CPS) data (page 37) to identify civic engagement activities of 18-29 year old Americans. They then segmented young people into the following categories: Broadly Engaged, Political Specialists, Under-Mobilized, Talkers, Donors, Only Voted, Civically Alienated, Engaged Non-Voters and Politically Marginalized. One overall conclusion is that “without sustained effort to provide young people with accessible and relevant opportunities, it may be difficult to maintain high levels of engagement among youth.

Other highlights include:

  1. The Broadly Engaged (19%) and Political Specialists (19%) are white, educated and from households with higher incomes. This is surprising considering the multicultural diversity of the Millennial generation and the large numbers of Millennials who participate in civic activities. Local governments will need to consider how to foster participation from other socio-economic and ethnic groupings in order to initiate change.
  2. Nearly one-quarter (23.2%) of the young adults are “completely disengaged” using measures in the CPS of civic activities. They are non-white, lower income and less educated (page 19).
  3. Talkers represent 13% of the demographic. Notable about talkers is the higher likelihood that they can be moved to other categories simply by updating the technological means for allowing them to be civically engaged.
  4. Donors (11.3%) represent older Millennials (median age of 25) and are more likely to be “married and working” (page 22). Donors participate in civic engagement by giving money or goods to an organization without giving in other ways.

How to Use

Local governments have the opportunity to tap into the high civic-mindedness of this important younger generation to help get communities “age ready.” But this requires knowing which young people will respond to which calls-to-action. By being aware of what moves a young person from one category to another, local governments can find ways to advance civic engagement in their own communities.

View full report: Understanding a Diverse Generation – Youth Civic Engagement in the United States – 2011 (PDF – 1.5 MB)

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