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Civic engagement has different meaning for Gen Z New Yorkers

  • / Updated:
  • Edwin Viera 

New research shows younger New Yorkers have different ideas about civic engagement.

A Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement survey found Generation Z was less positive or increasingly neutral on almost three-quarters of civic terms. Terms ranking highest with the cohort included “freedom,” “unity” and “community.”

Amy McIsaac, managing director for learning and experimentation at Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement, said a key takeaway is the most positive terms for Generation Z centered around racial equity.

“There is clearly a different relationship that Gen. Z has to the words,” McIsaac observed. “I would argue the concepts behind these racial equity terms than these more traditional democracy terms, and even, in many ways the like community engagement, service terms.”

She also pointed out young people have not had as much civic education, which is partly the cause of declining familiarity with civic terms. Other reasons could be lacking lived experience causing a drop in resonance with certain words. Some surveys show younger people are less likely to vote in the upcoming election than in 2020, a year with record-setting youth voter turnout.

But high schoolers are not as positive about civic engagement. A YouthTruth survey showed one-third of students across the country feel it was important to be involved in local, state or national issues. After speaking with high schoolers,

Jimmy Simpson, director of partnerships for YouthTruth, said after speaking with high schoolers, he believes lacking civic engagement is about lacking engagement in school work.

“The reason why that was important is because we know that being engaged in school is something that can help build this sense of community, help build this sense of pride in where you are, where you’re from,” Simpson outlined. “Students were just not feeling that.”

He noted they felt it in extracurricular activities and after-school clubs. Simpson added creating a space or class where students can see their local community impacts can bolster civic engagement for students.