WICHITA, KAN. – From voting in local elections to volunteerism and participation in public meetings, a new report examines the strength of civic engagement and civic health in Kansas.
The Kansas Civic Health Index, a report developed in partnership between the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), demonstrates the importance of civic engagement to a community or state. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), this report examines civic health in Kansas with a specific focus on the civic engagement of Kansans with different levels of income, education, and racial/ethnic backgrounds.
“In recent years we’ve been paying close attention to the widening gaps in health outcomes across different populations in Kansas, as we believe these disparities greatly impact the overall health of our state,” said Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation. “This report, and our partnership with NCoC, allowed us to investigate any common links between disparities in health outcomes and civic engagement.”
Key findings from this analysis of the Current Population Survey include:
• Kansas groups that are least politically engaged also experience the poorest health outcomes and struggle to access health care. This was demonstrated by measures such as the percentage of African Americans and Latinos in Kansas who reported lower levels of overall health and were also less likely to vote in local elections. African Americans reported voting in local elections at a rate of 46.3 percent and Latinos at a rate of 26.8 percent, compared to non-Hispanic whites at 61.6 percent.
• Sociodemographic factors, such as education, income, race, and ethnicity are highly related to civic engagement. The low level of political involvement for certain population groups suggests important perspectives are underrepresented in the democratic process in Kansas.
• Kansas ranks among the bottom ten states for individuals reporting they regularly vote in local elections.
• Kansas exhibits several strengths with regard to civic health. The state ranks among the top ten nationally for confidence in institutions, volunteering, and several measures of community engagement.
“The Kansas Health Foundation’s work is critical to the future of Kansas. By releasing this report they are starting a conversation that can increase citizen engagement levels and improve public health in the state,” said Sally Prouty, Interim CEO of the National Conference on Citizenship. “On many indicators, Kansas’ civic and political engagement ranks above average compared to other states. However, with leadership from KHF, they have the civic foundation to improve and become national civic engagement leaders.”
In its efforts to focus more intentionally on health disparities, KHF is also focusing work through an emphasis on fostering civic engagement to ensure more Kansans become involved in efforts to strengthen communities and improve health in the state.
“As a state we need to work to reduce health disparities related to social and economic factors,” said Jeff Willett, KHF Vice President for Programs and Policy. “At KHF, we’ve long supported work in the civic health sphere, such as leadership development, but now we’re also working to take action in areas like low voter participation.”
This action begins with the awarding of mini-grants to five organizations in Kansas who will focus on increasing voter participation in upcoming elections for individuals in parts of the state with high rates of poverty, poor health outcomes and high rates of uninsured residents.
“With this data showing disparities in civic health mirror important health disparities in Kansas, we believe this is an opportunity to fund innovative organizations to do this important work,” Willett said.