Volunteering Continues to Creep Skyward in the United States

Volunteering up again, slightly, in 2009.

This week the Corporation for National and Community Service announced that a new Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that 1.5 million more people in the U.S. volunteered in 2009 than in 2008.

The number of people volunteering through organizations rose from 61.8 million to 63.4 million between September 2008 and 2009.

The survey — conducted with the help of the Corporation — asked 60,000 households about their volunteerism habits through a supplement to the September 2009 Current Population Survey (CPS). The Corporation will use this week’s BLS findings to produce the annual Volunteering in America report. (See my write up about the 2009 report from this past July).

Between September 2007 and September 2008, the number of volunteers increased by one million. In the fall of 2008 the U.S. economy started its dramatic nosedive which definitely increased the need for volunteers at social service organizations throughout the country.

Interestingly, though, it doesn’t look as though unemployed people are the ones who swelled the ranks of volunteers. Overall, the volunteer rate among unemployed people didn’t change—though since the number of unemployed folks rose, I guess it’s possible that their overall percentage increase could be the same as in 2008, but the actual number of volunteers may have shot up.

Among unemployed men, the volunteer rate did increase slightly, from 17 percent in 2008 to 18.2 percent in 2009.

Otherwise it appears as though employed people and women (regardless of employment) made up most of the increase:

  • Among the employed, part-time workers were more likely than full-time workers to have participated in volunteer activities—33.7 versus 28.7 percent.
  • Overall, people employed full-time increased their volunteerism rate from 27.8 percent to 28.7 percent.
  • Women who were employed full-time increased their volunteerism rate by 1.4 percentage points.
  • Overall, women (regardless of employment status) increased their volunteerism rate from 29.4 percent in 2008 to 30.1 percent in 2009.
  • Overall, the volunteerism rates among men (regardless of employment status) held steady around 23.3 percent — but men reported to have volunteered a median of 52 hours over the course of the year (versus 50 hours for women).

Other interesting findings are that people age 20-24 decreased the number of median volunteer hours they served over the course of the year by eight hours. (Between 2007 and 2008, this same group had increased their number of volunteer hours by seven hours!)

The BLS report doesn’t offer analysis, just the facts. CNCS’s Volunteering in America 2010 report — due in the summer, using the BLS numbers — should offer some more insight into why the numbers have increased the way they have. Check out last year’s report and other volunteerism studies.

Read this week’s full report on the BLS website (bizarrely, in a font reminiscent of ye olde typewriter or dot matrix printer).

Or read the press release (PDF).

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