That's Not Democracy

A new report by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), in collaboration with Kettering Foundation, focuses on how non-college youth engage in civic life, and what stands in their way. CIRCLE director Peter Levine says that the report, “That’s Not Democracy: How Out-of-School Youth Engage in Civic Life and What Stands in Their Way,“ underlines the diversity of the Millennial Generation and reminds us that working-class youth offer enormous potential but are widely overlooked – especially in an election year.” Several significant and notable findings highlight the growing lack of entry points to social and political engagement/involvement for the 40% of 18-29 year olds who have no college experience – which translates to more than 18 million eligible voters. Based on analysis of national survey data and interviews with 121 non-college youth in 20 focus groups from communities such as Baltimore, Md., Little Rock, Ark., Richmond, Va., and Lowell, Mass., CIRCLE found that:

    • • Unlike a few decades ago, the majority of “non-college youth” are disengaged from traditional civic life, with 37 percent completely disconnected, and only 13.5 percent are engaged in forms of conventional civic leadership. Opportunities through unions, political parties, and religious institutions have been waning, and non-college-bound teenagers are unlikely to receive effective civic education in schools.


    • • Many focus group participants said they served or helped other individuals in their own families and neighborhoods, though they did not think of these forms of helping behavior when asked about community-level change.


    • • Focus group participants were highly aware of social and political issues, concerned about them, and likely to discuss them critically in their own social networks, even if they did not see how they personally could address such issues.


  • • Campaign outreach focused solely on college and university campuses misses the energy and potential votes of non-college youth.

CIRCLE also recently launched their #YouthTruth campaign to counter myths about young Americans, such as the widespread belief that youth are mostly college students and that their generation has uniform experiences and attitudes.