Civic engagement is broadly defined as individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern. Civic engagement is the platform for people to express their voice and to contribute to political, social, and cultural activities in the Austin area. Key indicators for civic engagement include: volunteerism and engagement in community, philanthropic activity, access to culture and the arts, and political participation. Generally, Austin performs well when compared to state and national trends, but disparities by income, race and ethnicity, and county persist. A few highlights from this section include:
- Travis County has a robust philanthropic sector with a relatively high foundation density (5.5, state average 2.2) and high asset reinvestment per capital ($216). More work needs to be done to develop the philanthropic sector in Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, and Williamson counties.
- Trends of individual philanthropy show a different pattern, with Bastrop and Burnett counties leading the region in individual monetary contributions. Across the region, those making $25,000K or less give more as a proportion of their income compared to other levels of income.
- According to the A2SI Community Survey, 51.4% of those surveyed report volunteering at least five hours or more. Approximately 15% of individuals volunteer 10 to 20 hours. African Americans reported the highest rate of volunteerism, with 72% of respondents reporting at least an hour of volunteering.
- Residents feel strongly that the quality of the arts is improving; the region is seeing an increase in employment in the arts and nonprofit arts organizations; and enrollment is increasing in 7-12th grade arts programs.
- Voter registration and voter turnout has remained fairly consistent in the region since 2000, however, the number of people that report feeling informed about issues affecting the community is down from 78% in 2000 and 2002 to 72% in 2015.
- Approximately 46% of Austin area residents feel “very comfortable” asking their neighbor for help. Those living in their neighborhood for more than five years are more likely to feel very comfortable, African Americans are the least likely to feel very comfortable.
Thinking about civic engagement, some questions to consider:
- How does being informed about issues in one’s community influence civic engagement?
- How will the increasing cost of living (social equity) affect opportunities for the arts in the Austin area?
- Will the philanthropic sector keep pace with economic and population growth in Hays and Williamson counties?