Our friends at CIRCLE have been releasing a wealth of useful data as part of their new YouthTruth initiative.  This week, CIRCLE is probing deep and uncovering some sobering—yet ultimately encouraging—truths about non-college youth.

In devising their major new study, “That’s Not Democracy.” How Out-of-School Youth Engage in Civic Life and What Stands in Their Way,” CIRCLE conducted 20 focus groups across four cities, talking with non-college youth about a range of topics related to their community engagement, interest and participation in civic groups and elections, and more.

Among the most interesting findings was that, although many participants “believed they had the skills to make a difference in their communities,” most “lacked opportunities to use those skills.” Furthermore, while participants “were highly aware of social and political issues, concerned about them, and likely to discuss them critically in their own social networks,” they often did not see how they could personally take action or get involved.

Also grabbing our attention: Despite this high level of interest in issues affecting their local communities, most participants reported having never been asked to participate in civic organizations.

CIRCLE’s report underscores what so many of our League leaders already know: young people, especially the millions who do not attend college, represent vast untapped potential for the future of our democracy. The young people surveyed here are the very individuals who are least likely to be registered to vote, engaged in community organizations, or otherwise plugged into civic life. Despite the barriers that stand in their way, they hold the key to transforming our democracy into one that truly represents the diverse communities we live in.

They have the will, and groups like the League have the potential to show them the way. 

League leaders across the country are working to engage non-college youth in a wide range of award-winning voter registration, civic training, volunteerism and scholarship programs. In many cases, Leagues are filling in the gaps and providing civic education where sorely little has existed before. Here at LWVUS, we have been proud to embark on an ambitious and successful high school voter registration program geared specifically toward the students who are least likely to go on to college. By far one of the most encouraging outcomes of that program has been the consistent energy and excitement we see from young people when League volunteers actually take the time to ask what they think about pressing social and policy issues. 

What more can we do to empower the young people in our lives? Here are a few ideas:

  • Think of 5 people you know, or even 3, who may not be registered to vote. Ask them about the things that matter most in their lives. Talk to them about why voting matters to you, and help them get registered to vote on November 6.
  • If you’re a League member, reach out to your local technical college, job training program, social assistance agency or other community organization and offer to get involved in talking with young people. Consider building a youth volunteer corps or award/scholarship program in your community.  Then, empower your young partners to be ambassadors of voting and civic engagement among their peers. Peer-to-peer engagement is a winning formula!
  • If not already a volunteer, find your local League and ask how you can get involved.