NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 19, 2006

High school dropouts are significantly less likely than better-educated Americans to vote, trust government, do volunteer work or go to church, according to a new report that reveals a widening gap in "civic health" between the nation's upper and lower classes.

The report finds that Americans' disengagement from their communities during the past few decades has been particularly dramatic among adults who have the least education.

According to the researchers:

  • Among people who lack a high school diploma, the percentage who has voted plummeted from 1976 to 2004 to 31 percent -- half the 62 percent of college graduates who voted in 2004.
  • There are hopeful signs, including a recent increase in volunteering, particularly among young people, and an upturn in political involvement since the late 1990s.

Robert D. Putnam, a Harvard University government professor said the reasons behind the civic drop-off among people with little income or education are not well understood. He speculated that it could result from the increasing instability of the working class, which he said has caused children to grow up with parents who have less steady jobs and marriages.

Peter Levine, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which helped compile the data, said the gap among the social classes exists in almost all 40 indicators of civic engagement included in the report.  Levine said the data show that such differences are not associated with people's race or ethnicity.

  • For instance, nearly half the adults with a college degree said they had attended a community program last year, compared with fewer than one in five high school dropouts.
  • Similarly, 60 percent of the college graduates said they believe people are honest, compared with 44 percent of the dropouts.

Source: Amy Goldstein, "Civic Involvement Tied to Education; High School Dropouts Unlikely to Vote," Washington Post, September 19, 2006; based upon: "Broken Engagement, America's Civic Health Index," National Conference on Citizenship, September 18, 2006.

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