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Recession may be behind rising ranks of volunteers

Recession may be behind rising ranks of volunteers

(AP News Photo Courtesy of Yellowbrix)

By Emily Bazar/USA TODAY

January 28, 2010

More Americans, especially women, are giving their time and energy to good causes, a new government report says. From September 2008 to September 2009, 63.4 million Americans, 26.8% of the population, volunteered with organizations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most of the growth can be attributed to more female volunteers, says Stephanie Boraas, a BLS economist. About 1.2 million more women volunteered in 2009 than in 2008.

“Women have always been more likely to volunteer than men,” says Leslie Lenkowsky, professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University.

The recession may be prompting even more women to do it, he says.

“It could very well be that as the economy has softened, we have seen more women employed part time rather than full time,” he says.

The recession may also be sparking action by the opposite gender. For men, the biggest increase in the volunteer rate was among the unemployed, Boraas says.

The HandsOn Network, which runs 250 centers nationwide that match volunteers with projects, has seen the growth among unemployed volunteers firsthand, says co-founder Michelle Nunn.

“They are out of work, and they want to do something meaningful with that time,” she says. "They also want to polish their skills or develop new skills."

Stephen Goldsmith, chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that administers programs such as AmeriCorps, points to another factor: President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s repeated calls for Americans to give something back to their country.

“When the chief elected leader of the country calls attention to service and the need for it, it tends to focus attention and make people think about it,” he says.

African Americans in particular may have been swayed by the call, Lenkowsky says. The percentage of African Americans who volunteered grew to 20.2% in 2009 from 19.1% in 2008.

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