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America's civic health on mend, report says

WASHINGTON -- America might not become a "nation of spectators" after all.

Last year, the National Commission on Civic Renewal issued a report that decried Americans' disengagement from government and community work. But Wednesday, the commission released an update that says the nation's civic health is on the mend."We can now say with confidence that the decadelong decline in our civic condition has not only halted but has significantly improved," said William Galston, executive director of the commission, which spent 18 months studying the state of citizenship in American life.

The 20-member commission, which tracks trends in family stability, civic membership, crime and other factors to monitor the nation's civic and moral pulse, issued its index of national civic health. The index fell by more than 20 percent during the decade ending in 1994 and then began its ascent.

The index for 1997, the last year the commission has been able to compile data to track all the trends, says more people trust the government, feel safer in their neighborhoods and participate in politics. And Galston, who has gotten a peek at more recent data, says he thinks the civic health index will continue to rise.

Last year, the commission, chaired by William Bennett, a Republican and former education secretary, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., issued a double-barreled message: The civic health had eroded and it was unclear whether positive signs foretold a rebound.