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U.S. civic health declines

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While voting and volunteering rates have improved in recent years, the nation’s overall civic health has deteriorated, a new study says.

The Civic Health Index, published by the National Conference on Citizenship, a network of groups pushing for civic renewal, measures civic participation using indicators such as giving and volunteering, staying informed and expressing political views.

From 1975 to the early 90s, the index dropped over seven percentage points, then rallied somewhat but remains three percentage points lower as of last year, the report says.

However, in the areas of voter turnout and volunteer rates, the U.S. is seeing improvement, and the study suggests a positive correlation between volunteering and voting.

Volunteerism overall rose, the study says, with Americans ages 16 to 25 volunteering at a higher rate than other age groups, and increasingly using online chats to discuss issues of civic responsibility.

More than 122 million people voted in the 2004 election, representing the highest turnout for a presidential election since 1968.

But the study showed an increasing disparity in civic engagement between educated and uneducated Americans, with college graduates scoring 15 points higher than high-school dropouts on civic activity.

Utah reported a volunteer rate of 47 percent, higher than any other state, followed by Nebraska at 42 percent and Minnesota at 40 percent, while New York ranked last at less than 22 percent.

Minnesota topped the 2004 voter-turnout list with more than three in four residents voting, while California ranked last with fewer than half turning out.

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