America’s most iconic youth organizations – the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA – have been jolted by unprecedented one-year drops in membership, due partly to the pandemic, and partly to social trends that have been shrinking their ranks for decades.
While both organizations insist they’ll survive, the dramatic declines raise questions about how effectively they’ll be able to carry out their time-honored missions — teaching skills and teamwork, providing outdoor adventure, encouraging community service.
Membership for the BSA’s flagship Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA programs dropped from 1.97 million in 2019 to 1.12 million in 2020, a 43% plunge, according to figures provided to The Associated Press. Court records show membership has fallen further since then, to about 762,000.
The Girl Scouts say their youth membership fell by nearly 30%, from about 1.4 million in 2019- 2020 to just over 1 million this year.
Both groups, like several other U.S. youth organizations, have experienced declining membership for many years. The Girl Scouts reported youth membership of about 2.8 million in 2003. The BSA had more than 4 million boys participating in the 1970s.
Reasons for the drop include competition from sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned, and busy family schedules. The pandemic brought a particular challenge.
In Lawrence, New Jersey, 8-year-old Joey Yaros stopped attending meetings while most in-person gatherings were shut down, and might not go back, even though his father and three brothers all earned the elite Eagle Scout rank. Joey was already struggling with virtual school classes, and the family didn’t pressure him to also participate in virtual Cub Scout activities.
“If there are den meetings in the fall, we’ll see if he gets back in the swing of it,” said his father, high school history teacher Jay Yaros. “There are a lot of interesting things for kids to do these days, and scouting doesn’t seem to be keeping up.”
The Boy Scouts’ problems are compounded by their decision to seek bankruptcy protection in February 2020 to cope with thousands of lawsuits filed by men who allege they were molested as youngsters by scout leaders. The case is proceeding slowly in federal bankruptcy court as lawyers negotiate creation of a trust fund for victims that will likely entail hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions from the BSA and its 252 local councils.
To provide those funds, some councils may have to sell cherished camp properties, the BSA’s president and CEO, Roger Mosby, told the AP.
“We understand that this is a difficult and often emotional decision, but in some instances may be a necessary step as we work toward our shared imperatives of equitably compensating survivors and continuing Scouting’s mission.” Mosby said in a written reply to AP’s queries.
The pandemic, the membership drop and rising costs of liability insurance have strained BSA finances. A disclosure statement in the bankruptcy case says its gross revenues dropped from $394 million in 2019 to $187 million last year.
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Source: ABC News