By S. Karthick Ramakrishnan July 2006Celia Viramontes
In recent years, concern has grown about the level of civic participation in the United States. Civic participation, also known as volunteerism, refers to membership and involvement in groups such as
neighborhood associations, faith-based groups, educational associations, and ethnic organizations. Policy analysts have begun to focus on volunteerism for several reasons; perhaps foremost among them is that group disparities in volunteerism may lead to persistent differences in political participation and policy influence, with disadvantages felt primarily among immigrant and minority populations.
Studies of civic engagement have focused on two potentially troubling aspects of civic volunteerism and political participation: overall declines in participation rates and the persistence of group disparities by race, ethnicity, and immigrant generation (Putnam, 2000; Burns, Schlozman, and Verba, 2001; Ramakrishnan and Baldassare, 2004). Many analysts worry that declining levels of volunteerism in the
present will lead to continued decreases in political interest and participation in the future. Some also believe that low levels of volunteerism will adversely affect the provision of public goods and services in many communities—especially as cuts in government spending leave the provision of social services to civic and voluntary organizations. Finally, many are concerned that group disparities in volunteerism will lead to persistent gaps in political participation, leaving immigrants and members of racial and ethnic minorities with a reduced ability to influence policy.