Missouri View: Working together best for tough times

Why don’t you care anymore?

Have you gotten too busy? Disillusioned? Preoccupied? Just trying to keep your head above water?

Did you even vote Nov. 2?

What would it take to get you involved with your community?

Using introspection and discussion to find answers to those questions — or at least get people talking about answers — are among the goals of an intriguing new study.

The first-ever Missouri Civic Health Assessment attempts to measure, in a sense, how much we all care about making life better for one another ... how hard we try ... whether we have given up trying.

Using phrases like “social capital,” “indicators of civic engagement” and “trends in neighborhood cooperation,” the assessment compiles information from U.S. Census Bureau surveys, voting records and other data to draw conclusions — and to offer warnings:

— There are some ominous, widening cracks in our state’s unusually vibrant blue-collar base of civic participation.

— Adequate funding for public education is endangered in Jefferson City and if we can’t get a good education, we’re less likely to volunteer or be involved.

— Our turnouts for voting and our rates of volunteerism have both shown declines (though they remain higher than in many other states).

While some might be tempted to disregard this assessment as a wonky exercise in academia, these red flags should not be ignored.

The report, put together by national experts and sociologists with Missouri State University, holds great value.

It makes a strong case that the ability of a community to marshal its collective resources, skills, expertise and knowledge can be as valuable as the best long-range economic plan or the most skilled, dedicated government workers. ...

It’s not like we’ve lost all sinew, according to the assessment. We’re not all apathetic flab. There are bright spots:

— We have an advantage over some states when it comes to the diversity of those participating in civil endeavors. Most often, those with higher education and higher income get more involved. We buck that trend.

— We tend to volunteer more than people in a lot of other states (though recent data shows we’re declining closer to the norm).

— Our education officials on the state level encourage, though mini-grants and other supportive efforts, learning through service to the community.

We also test students on civics statewide, while other states do not.

What can you do?

For one, pay attention when this report surfaces in community conversations. Encourage public officials in your town to take it seriously. ...

Hopefully, with advice from MSU experts like Mike Stout, Tim Knapp and John Harms, who all worked on this report, it will become clearer that it’s not an either/or. One does not have to trump the other.

We need to work together to survive.

We need to get engaged.

Consider this: If we don’t, things will get worse — much worse — and we’ll complain.

But, will anyone be there to care?

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