Both organizations insist that they will survive. However, their dramatic declines raise serious questions about whether they can continue to fulfill their time-honored missions of teaching skills and teamwork as well as providing outdoor adventure and encouraging community service.
According to The Associated Press, membership for the BSA's flagship Cub Scouts & Scouts BSA programs fell from 1.97 million in 2019 down to 1.12million in 2020. This represents a 43% drop in membership. According to court records, membership has declined further to approximately 762,000 since then.
According to the Girl Scouts, their youth membership dropped by almost 30% from 1.4 million in 2019-2020 to just over 1,000,000 this year.
Like many other U.S. youth groups, both have seen a decline in membership over the years. In 2003, the Girl Scouts reported a youth membership of approximately 2.8 million. In the 1970s, more than 4,000,000 boys participated in the BSA.
The reasons for the decline include competition from sports leagues and a perception that some families have of them as old-fashioned. Particular challenges were presented by the pandemic.
Joey Yaros, 8, of Lawrence, New Jersey, stopped attending meetings when most in-person gatherings were closed down. He might not return to the meeting even though his father, three brothers, and he all earned the elite Eagle Scout rank. Joey was already having trouble with online school classes and his family didn't push him to join virtual Cub Scout activities.
Jay Yaros, Jay's father and high school history teacher, said, "If there are fall den meetings, we will see if he gets into the swing of things." "There are so many interesting activities for kids these days that scouting isn't keeping up with them.
Boy Scouts' problems have been made worse by their decision in February 2020 to file for bankruptcy protection to deal with thousands of lawsuits from men alleging that they were molested by their leaders as children. As lawyers attempt to create a trust fund for victims, the case is moving slowly in federal bankruptcy court. This fund will likely include hundreds of millions in contributions from both the BSA (and its 252 local councils).
Roger Mosby, president and CEO of the BSA, said that some councils might have to sell cherished camps properties in order to raise those funds.
"We are aware that this is a difficult decision and sometimes emotional, but in some cases may be a necessary action as we work towards our shared imperatives to equitably compensate survivors and continue Scouting's mission." Mosby wrote in a response to AP's questions.