To the point week of 10-13-11


A REPORT WAS RECENTLY ISSUED that many residents of Indiana may not be aware of, but its findings are – quite frankly – alarming to those who read the results; and should be a wake up call to all of us.

The report is the “2011 Indiana Civic Health Index”, and was a cooperative effort by several entities, including the Center on Congress at Indiana University; the Indiana Bar Foundation; the National Conference on Citizenship; Indiana University Northwest; the Indiana Supreme Court; and the Hoosier State Press Association Foundation – of which I serve as a member of the board of directors.

The study was co-chaired by Lee Hamilton, former Congressman and Director of the Center on Congress, and Randall Shephard, chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

“So”, by now you must be saying, “What is a ‘civic health index’ and why should I care?”

Good questions.

What the index tried to show is how involved citizens of the state of Indiana are in their communities, their state, and how engaged they are in trying to work to make those things better. If we’re going to get better as a community; a state; or a nation, it will take people coming together with a common dream of working to make that happen.

So, how do Hoosiers participate in ‘civic life’?

Here’s a snapshot of the findings:

– Of all states, Indiana ranks 48th in the number of people who are eligible to vote, but actually do vote. Does that surprise you? It surprises me.

But, we have all seen local elections here when we celebrate that we had over 50-percent voter turnout. Should we really be celebrating the fact that half of the people who were registered to vote actually did? That percentage is even lower when you understand the difference between “eligible” to vote and “registered” to vote, because there are people who are of age and eligible who don’t bother to register to vote, and they aren’t even in the equation.

Ever hear someone say, “If you don’t care enough to vote, then don’t gripe about what our elected leaders are doing” or something like that? Statistically, most of the rest of the nation can look at Indiana and say that.

So why don’t people vote? Good question. If you look around at all of the “occupations” that are going on around the county, from Wall Street and in other towns (you know those protesters are getting paid to sit there, right?), apparently there are people who either care enough to protest the direction our government or some branch of it is moving.

As a state, our voter turnout was 39.4-percent in 2010, and that’s six-percent below the national average.

In terms of registering, Indiana ranks 43rd in terms of eligible voters who are actually registered.

It’s amazing that millions of people will vote for their favorite “American Idol”; or will vote to see who gets to stay on “Dancing with the Stars”, but they have a disconnect with taking a few minutes and voting to elect their leaders on local, state, and national levels.

– Community involvement was also considered. In other words: do you belong to a group that’s working to make your community a better place?

According to the index, 1,290,000 Hoosiers volunteered their time to some cause in 2010, that’s 26.1-percent of the state’s population. That ranks 32nd overall in the nation. So, statistically, one out of every four residents of Indiana is volunteering their time in some way: a civic club, a community cause, a charity, something.

Here’s a good one for you: the index sought to find out if Hoosiers worked together, worked with their neighbors, to solve community problems. Indiana’s rate was 6.5-percent, which ranks us 45th in the nation. Apparently, on our civic report card, we “don’t play well with others.”

Indiana does rank 21st nationally among people who are part of a religious, neighborhood, school, sports, or other type of group. So where is the difference? It comes from our state having fewer people involved in more things. Of those who are volunteering, they are volunteering for lots of things; while a big part of our citizenry sits back and enjoys the spoils of the work of others.

Sound familiar to anyone….?

– Here’s some good news: Indiana ranks 17th in the nation in the number of people who said that they eat dinner with their family more than two times a week. Statistically, just over 90-percent of us find the time to share a meal together.

Although that’s good news, it also alarms me, because I thought that stat would be much lower. If you’ve got a child involved in some form of activity, especially school sports, you know that it’s nearly impossible to sit down as a family and share a meal, unless it’s in your car and there’s a drive through window involved.

– The study looked at what promotes civic health; and one of the things it looked at was a free press. The study included all types of media, and sought to see how people in Indiana got their information.

How do you get your news on a daily basis? What sources do you use? Television led the way with 72-percent; followed by newspapers with 52-percent; radio with 42-percent; Internet sources (other that the websites of traditional media) 12-percent; and news magazines, six-percent.

But here’s a statistic for you: 16-percent of all Hoosiers do not access any form of news from any source on a daily basis. In other words, about one in every six people in our state has no clue what’s going on around them on a daily basis. Hard to believe, right?

The study showed the 23-percent of Hoosiers use only one news source in a day; while 31-percent access two news sources; 21-percent access three; and eight-percent access four or more.

Okay, let’s take you.

If you got up this morning and turned on Froggy to catch the morning news, that’s one. Flipped on the TV to watch “Good Morning America” or something like that: two. Read this article, three. Flipped on your computer and looked at some webpage, from yahoo to CNN to the Indianapolis Star.


You’re in an elite group of just eight percent of Indiana residents, and you haven’t even left for work yet.

Now here’s where this all ties together:

According to the U.S. Census, Hoosiers who get news on a daily basis from three or more news sources: seven out of every 10 of those people do a favor for a neighbor or family member at least once a month.

Strange, right? The more informed you are, the more likely you are to do a favor for someone or have a charitable attitude towards someone. With 70-percent of the population doing “good things”, the community in which they live is a better place to live, right?

- Education: Part of our civic health is having a dialogue that informs and educates future generations. Here in Indiana, 21.6-percent of Hoosiers discuss politics “frequently”. About 45-percent say that they never discuss politics.

In the classroom, 67-percent of fifth grade students statewide passed the social studies component of the ISTEP test in 2011. That percentage is an increase from 2009, when it was 60-percent. In the seventh grade, the percent passing in that same period rose from 58-percent to 68-percent. Those are positive signs, but the social studies pass rate still falls below the pass rate for math and English scores.

– Higher education: 33-percent of working adults age 25-64 hold at least a two-year degree post-high school.

The study shows, however, that only 29.7-percent of Indiana college students were involved in some form of volunteering activity. What’s really disturbing is that a large percent of those students did volunteer while in high school, but stopped when they went to college.

– So what does all of this mean? It means that if we truly want a better community to live in and for our kids to live in, then we need to put action to our words and stop talking about what could be better and start working to make things better.

We have civic elections coming up in a few weeks, and if you haven’t registered to vote, call the clerk’s office and ask if it’s too late. Beyond that, we will elect a President of our country and Governor of our state next year, and as a society we need to educate ourselves on the issues and not just take our information off of Facebook, and then we need to go out, vote, and make a difference.

We need to engage in our communities, and we need to work together on what unites us rather than yelling at each other about what divides us.