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Volunteering Slightly Down in 2006, But Overall Still Strong

(Feb. 19, 2007) The percentage of the U.S. population that volunteers decreased in 2006, according to Volunteering in the United States, 2006, a new survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About 61.2 million people volunteered their time for a charitable organization at least once between September 2005 and September 2006, or 26.7 percent of the entire U.S. population. That figure is a decrease of 2.1 percentage points from the volunteer rate of the past three years and is slightly lower than the 2002 rate, the first year for which comparable data are available.

The median amount of time spent volunteering between September 2005 and September 2006 was 52 hours. Volunteers were most likely to volunteer for one organization (68.5 percent), though almost one in five who did volunteer supported two organizations (19.8 percent).

The primary organization—the organization for which the volunteer worked the most hours during the year—was usually religious in nature (35.0 percent), followed by educational/youth services (26.4 percent) and social/community service organizations (12.7 percent). Older volunteers (age 65 and higher) were more likely to volunteer for a religious organization, while younger volunteers and parents tended to focus on educational/youth service-related charities.

Who Volunteered/Who Didn’t

Just over 30 percent of women and 23 percent of men volunteered, down from 32.4 and 25.0 percent, respectively, in the previous survey. Women volunteered at a higher rate than men across all age groups, educational levels and most other characteristics. Men who volunteered were most likely to engage in general labor and supervise sports teams, while women tended to fundraiser, tutor or teach.

Persons age 35 to 54 were most likely to volunteer (31.2 percent), while persons in their early 20s were the least likely (17.8 percent). While all age groups showed declines in volunteer rates, the largest decline was among teenagers. There was also a significant gap in volunteer rates between married persons (32.2 percent) than those who had never married (20.3 percent) or had another marital status (21.3 percent).

Is Volunteerism Truly Down?

However, the recent drop indicated by the BLS survey doesn’t necessarily mean interest in volunteerism has decreased. According to an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (“Volunteerism Figures Fall to Four-Year Low, Federal Study Finds"), some charity officials believe that the decrease in volunteerism can be attributed to the impact of Hurricane Katrina. The storm not only displaced potential volunteers, but also destroyed many charity offices, thus eliminating opportunities to volunteer. Volunteerism levels also climbed sharply after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and are likely to fall over time.

In addition, a recent survey by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Volunteer Growth in America, found that volunteering in the U.S. is at a 30-year high. The study used census data to look at how volunteering has changed since 1974, and traces the growth to three groups – teens, midlife adults and seniors.

Some of the key findings:

  • Older teenagers (ages 16-19) have more than doubled their time spent volunteering since 1989, suggesting the emergence of a new civic generation.
  • Far from being a “Me Generation,” Baby Boomers are volunteering at sharply higher rates than did the previous generation at that point in their lives.
  • The volunteer rate for Americans ages 65 years and over has increased 64 percent since 1974.
  • The proportion of Americans volunteering with an educational or youth service organization has seen a 63 percent increase since just 1989.

About the Surveys

More information about Volunteering in the United States, 2006, including a series of tables and technical notes, can be found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

The data for the survey were collected through a supplement to the September 2006 Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS—a monthly survey of about 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics—focuses on obtaining information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over. The purpose of this supplement to the CPS was to obtain information on the incidence of volunteering and the characteristics of volunteers in the United States.

Volunteer Growth in America is available on the Corporation for National and Community Service website. It is based on the same data collected by the CPS.

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