California Suffering ‘Civic Recession’

Report finds downturn affecting volunteerism and trust

SACRAMENTO — A new report, released today by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) and California Forward, shows that just under three in four Californians have cut back on the time they spent volunteering, participating in groups, and doing other civic activities.

As the recession lingers, Californians have joined a broad national trend by turning inward and cutting back on civic engagement. Of California respondents, 61 percent said people in their community are reacting to the economic downturn by looking out for themselves, compared to only 18 percent who said people around them are responding to the recession by helping each other more.

The 2009 California Civic Health Index report not only showed dramatic cutbacks in civic engagement, but also declines in trust in public institutions, especially state government. Californians regard their state government with greater suspicion than most Americans. Of all respondents, only 22 percent say they had a great deal of confidence in their state government.

“This Civic Health Index is yet another wake-up call for Sacramento. It’s time to make restoring the confidence of Californians a top priority, starting with practical, common-sense reform,” said Robert M. Hertzberg, Co-Chair of California Forward.

Even with difficult economic times complicating Californians’ efforts to stay engaged with the state’s civic life, and confidence in government and non-government institutions alike shrinking, Californians are still holding firmly to their sense of self. Many respondents said they feel the same attachment to the state that they do with people in their own neighborhood. Just under 40 percent of respondents say they have a moderate or very strong personal connection to the people on their block. Roughly the same number said they feel the same way about people in the state as a whole, as well.

“It’s this citizenship and patriotism in California that makes it unique, and it says a lot about the civic health in the Golden State,” said NCoC Executive Director David B. Smith. "The purpose of the index is to promote public deliberation about the nation's (and California’s) civic health and to examine new ways of improving it."

“The depth of the economic downturn, and the unprecedented depth and breadth of cuts to state and local services, has raised the stakes for everyone involved,” said Thomas V. McKernan, Co- Chair of California Forward and CEO of the Auto Club of Southern California. “This civic index report mirrors what we’ve seen across the state; namely, that Californians love this state and want it to lead again.”

You can read the California 2009 Civic Health Index: “Hunkering Down:” Volunteering and Civic Engagement During Turbulent Economic Times at

About California Forward

California Forward is a nonpartisan organization, funded by foundations with no political ties or partisan agendas. We believe California needs to fundamentally change how public decisions are made, how public dollars are spent and how politicians are held accountable. We’re Californians who have come together to reclaim our power as citizens and make our government work again. We launched in 2008 to address these challenges in response to a request from the California Endowment, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. They asked for a new plan to change how California is governed. You can find out more about California Forward at

About the National Conference on Citizenship

Founded in 1946 and chartered by Congress in 1953, the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) is a leader in strengthening our nation's civic life. In partnership with over 250 organizations, NCoC tracks, measures and promotes civic participation. Through this work, NCoC helps define modern citizenship in America. More information can be found at

The creation of America’s Civic Health Index and report is a cooperative effort of the NCoC, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, Civic Enterprises, and Harvard University’s Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America, as well as members of a Civic Health Index Working Group.

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