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Study Shows Americans Pulling Back From Volunteering

Resource Center - Foundation

(Sept. 1, 2009) Americans say they have cut back on volunteer service to their communities and believe others have chosen to look out for themselves as a result of the recession.

Nearly two thirds (72 percent) of Americans surveyed said they cut back on time spent volunteering, participating in groups and doing other civic activities in the past year, reports a study by the National Conference on Citizenship. While the majority of people have become less engaged, 66 percent of respondents believe other people have chosen to turn inward to cope with the recession rather than reaching out to help others.

Good news is that many Americans are helping in other ways than through formal volunteering. Fifty percent of those surveyed said they gave food or money to someone in need who is not a relative. Forty-three percent gave food or money to someone in need who is a relative. Furthermore, 17 percent of respondents allowed a relative to live in their home or on their property and 11 percent did this for a non-relative.

The study shows that although people of lower incomes are less likely to volunteer than affluent Americans (29 percent vs. 50 percent), they are more likely to give food, money or shelter (24 percent vs. 21 percent)

Plugged-In Youth Lead in Volunteering

Young people (currently members of the Millennial Generation and Generation X) had the highest rate of formal volunteering (43 percent), inching ahead of people aged 65 and over (42 percent) who had traditionally led in this area. Thirty-five percent of those in the Baby Boomer generation volunteered in their communities in the past year.

The study found that Millennials (Americans aged 15-29) who used social networking sites for civic causes were much more civically engaged in their communities. Furthermore, civic use of social networking sites cut across income and educational gaps, meaning that low-income youth and youth without college experience were nearly as likely to use social networking sites for civic purposes as youth who had a higher income or college experience.

Religious People Volunteered More

The study also found that people who frequently attend religious services and who are connected to their community through friends and groups were more likely to increase their civic engagement this year.

Among those who frequently attend religious services, 40 percent had increased the amount of time put into volunteering and other civic activities. Those who visit with friends often, eat together as a family or belong to a club had high levels of engagement compared to the overall study sample.
To read the full report of this study by the National Conference on Citizenship, go to

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