NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Philadelphia Congregations Help Meet Social Needs

March 23, 2000

Organized religion plays an essential role in America's high-crime, low-literacy neighborhoods, according to a soon-to-be-released study.

In the most comprehensive study of its kind ever completed, Ram A. Cnaan of the University of Pennsylvania shows how clergy and religious volunteers in 401 of Philadelphia's approximately 2,000 congregations serve their neediest neighbors.

  • The study reveals that 91 percent of Philadelphia's congregations provide at least one community service, and most provide two or more programs.
  • Examples include food pantries (48 percent), prison ministries (21 percent), summer day camps (40 percent) and substance abuse prevention (17 percent).
  • On average, each program reaches 135 people, 99 of whom are not even members of the church, and the primary beneficiaries are "unchurched" children and teenagers.
  • The same services would cost at least $200 million a year for government and other nonreligious institutions to provide, Cnaan conservatively estimates.

That does not include the indirect social benefits generated by the ministries. For example, an estimated 400,000 of Philadelphia's 1.5 million residents have serious reading deficiencies. But this problem and others would be even worse without the roughly 500 congregations that tutor children and the 300 that offer adult reading programs.

And in the city's most dangerous police district, a church-related program called the Youth Violence Reduction Project offers mentoring and other social services young people, ages 14 to 24, who the community views as most likely to kill or be killed.

The program has been has been credited with reducing youth homicides to one during the first half of 1999 from 11 in the year-earlier period.

Source: John J. DiIulio Jr. (Manhattan Institute), "Brotherly Love," Wall Street Journal, March 17, 2000.


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