Vounteering in the United States Increases

According to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people who participated in volunteer work rose from 59.8 million to 63.8 million, an increase of 6 percent, in the year ending September 30, 2003, the Washington Post reports.

Based on a new supplement to the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of 60,000 households that focuses on employment trends among people 16 and older, the report found that the percentage of individuals who did volunteer work in the preceding twelve months grew from 27.4 percent to 28.8 percent, while volunteerism among teenagers increased from 26.9 percent to 29.5 percent. The report counted individuals as volunteers only if they performed unpaid activities through an organization.

"The president really hoped in the aftermath of 9/11 that this was a unique moment in history," said John M. Bridgeland, director of the USA Freedom Corps, the Bush administration agency that operates a clearinghouse of volunteer service opportunities. "And the question was, 'Could we sustain this spirit of service and patriotism to help marshal the talents of citizens to meet our toughest needs?' Not only does it look like we are sustaining it, but we're increasing it."

But Robert D. Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the author of the book Bowling Alone, told the Post that it was too soon to tell whether there were long-term cultural changes afoot. "Late adolescence is the time, for political kinds of things, when we're most open to being influenced by our environment," said Putnam. "Therefore, 9/11 was most likely to have had its effect on young people.... It would be a big deal if we could raise the level of civic engagement among young people. It's like making an investment and you get returns over the next fifty years. But you can't tell from just one year's numbers."

To read the full report, see: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.toc.htm.

Christopher Lee. "Volunteer Service on Increase." Washington Post 12/18/2003.