Volunteerism Rate Inches Downward to New Low

by Megan O’Neil, The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Adults in the United States volunteered in 2014 at the lowest rate since the federal government began collecting such data 13 years ago.

One in four Americans, or 25.3 percent, volunteered with an organization last year, according to the annual “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” report. Though the rate is down only slightly from 25.4 percent in 2013, it has been declining for the past decade.

In total, Americans volunteered 8 billion hours in 2014, worth $184 billion, according the average value of a volunteer hour as calculated by Independent Sector.

The report, published Tuesday by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship, provides an annual snapshot of civic engagement and volunteerism in the United States.

It draws on data that the Bureau of Labor Statics began gathering on an annual basis in 2002.

The 2013 national rate of volunteerism was the previous all-time low. The highest rate was 28.8 percent, recorded in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Officials at the two organizations that produced the report described the change in the national rate from 2013 to 2014 as negligible.

“We still have slightly over one in four Americans volunteering,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship. “It is a relatively high rate. It ought to be higher. We need more people to volunteer.”

The culture of volunteering in the United States is something that should be celebrated, officials at the two groups said.

“I can’t think of anything that we as Americans contribute collectively 8 billion hours to that makes this kind of an impact,” said Wendy Spencer, chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In addition to the one in four Americans who volunteer formally through organizations, two-thirds volunteer informally through activities such as giving neighbors rides to medical appointments and providing child care, Ms. Spencer said.

The benefits of volunteering are numerous, she said, starting with the fact that volunteers are twice as likely as nonvolunteers to donate to charities.

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