Youth Civic Engagement: Do Youth Councils Reduce or Reinforce Social Inequality?


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Youth engagement in municipal government has the potential to benefit both youth and the community. Yet, some forms of youth civic engagement may be related to social class and race resulting in benefits to select youth and communities, thus perpetuating a longer term trajectory of privilege or marginalization. Informed by theories of social capital and civic engagement, the present study examined how youth councils may reduce or reinforce social inequality among young people at the city level. Data collection included interviews with youth council members, interviews with adult allies, observations of youth council meetings, and a review of council documents. Thematic analysis identified four overarching themes related to social inequality: member representation, social networks, community engagement, and youth engagement in governmental decision making. Although the council was committed to diversity and authentic youth engagement, findings identified areas in need of further attention. One important area is recruiting diverse youth, including those who attend non-traditional school settings. Another key area is providing youth with ongoing training and support focused on effective strategies for community engagement. Finally, more emphasis should be placed on engaging socially disadvantaged youth in municipal government and assisting them in enhancing their social networks.

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