The percentage of Americans volunteering has reached a 30-year high says a new study, due in part to a boom in teens’ dedication to community service. “We may be on the cusp of a new civic generation,” said the director of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which has tracked volunteer rates since 1974…

The report, Volunteer Growth in America: A Review of Trends Since 1974, finds that adult volunteering rose sharply between 1989 and 2005, increasing more than 32 percent over the last 16 years.

“Americans help their nation, their communities and themselves when they mentor at-risk youth, care for seniors, respond to disasters, and meet a wide range of other critical needs,” said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation, which is spearheading a national effort to engage an additional 10 million volunteers by 2010.

The brief analyzes volunteering rates in 1974, 1989 and 2002-05, using information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It finds that the growth in volunteering is driven primarily by three age groups: teenagers 16 to 19, Baby Boomers ages 45 to 65, and older adults 65 and over. Among their findings:

  • Older teenagers (ages 16-19) have more than doubled their time spent volunteering since 1989.
  • Far from being a “Me Generation,” Baby Boomers are volunteering at sharply higher rates than did the previous generation at mid-life.
  • The volunteer rate for Americans ages 65 years and over has increased 64 percent since 1974.
  • The proportion of Americans volunteering with an educational or youth service organization has seen a 63 percent increase just since just 1989.

“Boomers’ high engagement in service today (along with teen increases) has the potential to foster a volunteer explosion among older Americans in the years to come,” said Robert T. Grimm, Jr., Director of Research and Policy Development at the Corporation.

Educational and youth service organizations (such as schools, 4-H, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts) are benefiting from the growth because they have received the largest increase in volunteers between 1989 and 2006. Nearly 24.6 percent of all adult volunteers serve through such organizations, a 63 percent increase since 1989. The biggest percentage of volunteers — 35.5 percent — serve through religious organizations.Grimm cited several reasons for heightened civic engagement today:

  • Teenagers are volunteering in greater numbers, in part, because of an increase in service-learning programs in schools and colleges that combine classroom study with community activity. Another reason may be a response to traumatic national events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and recent natural disasters.
  • Mid-life adults are more likely to have children in the home because Americans are delaying marriage and childbearing. The result is increased exposure to volunteering opportunities connected to their children’s school and extracurricular activities.
  • Older Americans are living longer, are better educated, and more financially secure – creating an increased desire for them to remain active and seek ways to give back to communities.

“America needs more volunteers to mentor and tutor at-risk youth, care for seniors, respond to disasters, and meet a wide range of other critical needs,” said Eisner. “We are committed to working with volunteer and service-driven organizations everywhere to expand the number of Americans who volunteer by 15 percent over the next five years. I encourage any American who wants to make a difference to visit to find the right volunteer opportunity for you.”

The Corporation’s 10 x 10 campaign aims to increase the number of volunteers in America from 65 million in 2005 to 75 million in 2010 while achieving the agency’s strategic goals, which include engaging more students and harnessing the experience of Baby Boomers.

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