December 18, 2003 - Washington Post: Volunteer Service on Increase

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Volunteer Service on Increase

Volunteer Service on Increase

Volunteer Service on Increase
63.8 Million Total Up 6% From Year Ending September 2002

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2003; Page A33

More people than ever in the United States reported participating in organized volunteer work over the last year, according to a federal report released yesterday.

About 63.8 million people did volunteer work in the year ending in September 2003, an increase of more than 6 percent from the 59.8 million from the year before, according to the report by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The percentage of all people 16 and older who volunteered increased from 27.4 percent to 28.8 percent, the report found.

The report was based on a new supplement to the Current Population Survey, a monthly government survey of 60,000 households that focuses on employment trends among people 16 and older. Respondents were counted as volunteers only if they performed unpaid volunteer activities through an organization. Participants in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, two government-sponsored service programs that pay their members, were not included, for instance.

Although the new report offers statistics, it does not include an analysis explaining the increase in volunteerism.

John M. Bridgeland, director of the USA Freedom Corps, the Bush administration agency that operates a clearinghouse of volunteer service opportunities, attributed the increase to President Bush's emphasis on volunteerism after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"The president really hoped in the aftermath of 9/11 that this was a unique moment in history," he said. "And the question was, 'Could we sustain this spirit of service and patriotism to help marshal the talents of citizens to meet our toughest needs?' Not only does it look like we are sustaining it, but we're increasing it."

Robert D. Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the overall rise in volunteerism was small. It is too soon to tell whether there are any long-term cultural changes afoot, he said. But Putnam, author of the book "Bowling Alone," which documented the decline of civic connections between Americans, said it may be significant that the report found volunteerism among teenagers increased from 26.9 percent to 29.5 percent.

"Late adolescence is the time, for political kinds of things, when we're most open to being influenced by our environment," he said. "Therefore, 9/11 was most likely to have had its effect on young people. . . . It would be a big deal if we could raise the level of civic engagement among young people. It's like making an investment and you get returns over the next 50 years. But you can't tell from just one year's numbers."

Among the survey findings were that 35- to 44-year-olds were the most likely to volunteer, with 34.7 percent of that group participating. The least likely were those in their early twenties (19.7 percent) and those 65 and older (23.7 percent).

However, senior citizens who volunteered devoted more time than volunteers in other age groups, the report found. Half of all volunteers 65 and older volunteered for at least 88 hours during the year, while the figure for all age groups was 52 hours.

The most common reasons for not volunteering were lack of time, medical problems and family responsibilities or child care problems, the report found.

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Story Source: Washington Post

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; USA Freedom Corps; Volunteerism



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