volunteering down in 2006

(from Wingspread, near Racine, WI) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteering rate for the United States as a whole slipped by 2.1 percentage points in 2006, having been stable for the previous three years. The Bureau adds, “The largest decline was among teenagers.” This trend matches our surveys from 2002 and 2006, which showed a decline in youth volunteering after a long and substantial increase during the 1990s. The BLS and other federal agencies are not making much of the 2006 results, which appear on an obscure web page. That makes an interesting contrast with 2005, when the Corporation for National and Community Service announced: “Volunteering Hits a 30-Year High, New Federal Report Finds.” As a matter of fact, the rate had not increased in 2005 compared to the plateau of the previous two years:

And now we see a decrease. For my part, I’m not convinced that the rate of volunteering is an important indicator. It tells us nothing about the seriousness of the work being done; and it arbitrarily excludes paid work of public value. I much prefer such questions as: “Have you worked with others to address a community problem?” But if we are going to draw a lot of attention to an increase in the volunteering rate (David Eisner called the level in 2005 “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get more Americans engaged in making their communities stronger”), then we ought to pay equal attention to a decline.

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