May 2014 Bar Bulletin
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May 2014 Bar Bulletin

Civic Health Index Highlights Progress, Challenges

By Justo Gonzalez


King County's civic health is excellent, according to the Greater Seattle Civic Health Index, recently published by Seattle CityClub and the National Conference on Citizenship.

Compared with 51 other top metropolitan areas, Greater Seattle ranks first in citizen involvement with schools, neighborhood or community associations; second in buying or boycotting a product based on moral values; third in volunteering; and sixth in always voting in local elections. These civic health markers correlate strongly with local GDP, economic resilience, upward income mobility, public health and even student achievement.

The Index confirms that we have plenty to celebrate. But it also confirms that we have plenty of room for improvement in key areas dealing with social cohesion and community building. Greater Seattle ranks 48th, among the worst in the nation, in how frequently we talk to neighbors and 37th in giving to or receiving favors from neighbors. The "Seattle Freeze" is real and it is a problem that threatens our civic health.

During the past decade, the Greater Seattle region has grown almost twice as fast as the nation as a whole. Minorities account for an astounding 92 percent of that growth. The Index showed that this population also is the most mobile - moving within the region from cities to suburbs to find higher-paying jobs and more affordable housing.

This transience impacts social cohesion and makes neighborliness difficult. Diversity and mobility can also be vital community strengths, according to the Index, and our community has the infrastructure necessary to foster a stronger sense of community.

Civic health increases in a well-educated and prosperous community. Educational attainment is the single most relevant predictor of civic participation and for overcoming disparities of opportunity and training.

This is a particular challenge for our bar community. Membership data from the WSBA confirm that our legal community does not reflect the rich diversity of our region. The proportion of minorities entering the bar has remained largely static despite a decade of rapid general population growth.

This is not simply a function of law school or even college admission demographics. According to the Index, despite our region's high number of residents with college degrees, Washington ranks relatively low (34th) among states in the percentage of students graduating high school. And there are great disparities in that achievement based on minority status and household income level.

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