Neighbors are reaching out, helping each other more

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12 2012 10:25 p.m. MST

For the Civic Life in America report, which is now in its third year, researchers asked 81,355 adults a number of questions including, for the first time, about interactions with neighbors. They found that 41 percent trust most of the people who live by them, an additional 35 percent trust some and 16 percent trust them all. Only 9 percent responded that they don't trust anyone in their neighborhood.

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Trust and connections between neighbors are growing, according to a national survey that looks at how folks interact. The Civic Life in America report finds most people trust at least some of their neighbors and they exchange both favors and chitchat.

For the Civic Life in America report, which is now in its third year, researchers asked 81,355 adults a number of questions including, for the first time, about interactions with neighbors. They found that 41 percent trust most of the people who live by them, an additional 35 percent trust some and 16 percent trust them all. Only 9 percent responded that they don't trust anyone in their neighborhood.

The survey is an add-on to the Census' Current Population Survey and is used by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that works with the National Conference on Citizenship.

It appears that chatting with the folks who live nearby is the neighborly thing to do. Of those asked, 87 percent said they do talk to their neighbors, up from 81 percent in 2009. Doing favors like taking in the mail when someone is on vacation also increased to 65 percent from 56 percent three years ago.

The report credits the Internet with helping to advance civic participation in America. In a release about the findings, the researchers said that "people who have access to the Internet in their homes and people who use the Internet wherever they have opportunity are more likely to get involved in almost every type of activity studied in the assessment."

Besides that, adults who were on the Internet regularly were 20 percent more likely to vote in the 2008 election than adults who didn't.

The survey also found that people who are involved in their communities in one way are more likely to get involved in others, as well.

"Eating dinner with your family, talking to your neighbors or just keeping in touch with people online are all associated with higher levels of participation in other aspects of civic life," the group said in a written statement. "Of citizens who talk with their neighbors frequently, 33 percent also volunteer, compared to only 16 percent of people who do not talk often with their neighbors."

Looking at the demography of the respondents, the researchers concluded that veterans are more likely to be involved in their communities and more likely to become active politically than nonveterans.

USA Today said the findings are similar to recent reports by the Pew Research Center Internet and Family Life Project that found more than half of those asked said they know all or most neighbors by name. In 2008, that was 40 percent. Now, only 18 percent say they don't know any neighbors by name.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, many people relied on their neighbors for support and information. People naturally seek connections to each other, but it may take something like such a natural disaster to bring people together. Tom Wolff, a psychologist in Amherst, Mass., told USA Today that "the disaster allows us permission to address it — to break down a barrier that says 'it would be awkward.' When they're in trouble, those barriers are down."

A disaster recovery expert, Daniel Aldrich, of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He said their lives weren't saved by emergency announcements or rescuers, but by a neighbor. "Our neighbor told us to get out, so we did, and it saved our lives," he told the newspaper.

The report also looked at volunteering and reported that's up significantly, having hit a five-year high. It notes that parents of school-age children volunteer at higher rates than the overall population and lauds schools as a natural hub for civic activity.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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