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Nearly 3 of 10 Americans do volunteer work, study finds

WASHINGTON—More than 65 million Americans volunteered their time last year, but the participation rate has remained flat since 2002 and participation varies widely by state, region and ethnic group, according to a federal survey released Monday.

While numbers are up nearly 6 million, the rate at which Americans volunteer remained steady at 28.8 percent, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes volunteer work and administers such government volunteer programs as the Senior Corps and AmeriCorps. Americans volunteered an average of 50 hours a year, the agency found.

The figures, which include Americans 16 and older, are derived mainly from U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The results aren't great news for David Eisner, the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush charged the agency with increasing U.S. volunteerism.

Still, Eisner said Monday that the steady rate is an achievement, given the aging of U.S. baby boomers and the growing Latino population, both of which volunteer at relatively low rates.

"As the kids leave home, volunteering diminishes," Eisner said. He added: "We have not made the kind of `asks' that we need to of the Latino population." An "ask" in the language of nonprofits is a request for help.

The likeliest volunteer, Eisner's agency found, "is a white female who gives 50 hours per year volunteering through a religious organization as a tutor, mentor, coach or referee."

Women volunteer at a higher rate than men—32.4 percent vs. 25 percent—according to the study. Mothers with children at home volunteer at the highest rate of any group—nearly 40 percent—reflecting strong demands from schools, pre-schools and churches for their help.

Generally, married and working adults with kids volunteered more than unmarried or childless adults.

As Eisner explained it, "One of the trends that seems fairly clear is that as people have broader ties to their networks and communities, they are more likely to participate."

Among states, Utah had the highest rate of volunteerism—48 percent—followed by Nebraska (43 percent), Minnesota (41 percent), Iowa (39 percent) and Alaska (39 percent).

Nevada had the lowest volunteer rate—19 percent—followed by New York (21 percent) Louisiana (23 percent), Florida (24 percent) and West Virginia (25 percent).

There were large differences among regions, too. The Midwest had the highest volunteer rate_ a third of its population—followed by the West, the South and the Northeast, which achieved 29 percent, 27 percent, and 26 percent participation respectively.

More than a third of volunteers worked with or through religious organizations, the study found. A quarter worked with educational or other youth service groups, and most of the rest worked with social or community service organizations.

Volunteering as a coach, tutor, referee or mentor was the most popular activity (35 percent), followed by fund raising (30 percent) and food collection or distribution (26 percent).

"It would seem that the prevalence of the faith-based (Mormon) community in Utah contributes to it being No. 1," Eisner said. But he noted that Vermont also has a very high volunteering rate, along with one of the lowest religious participation rates.

Of his agency, Eisner said: "I think we need to engage more nonprofits that serve and represent the minority community. We also know through this survey that the issues around youth are highly motivating—we see a real sweet spot for African-American men in mentoring and tutoring."

On the positive side, he added, "We have a little more wind at our back—pardon the pun—from Hurricane Katrina," which produced great outpourings of volunteer activity and contributions.


To read the new study on volunteering, go to


(EDITORS: Much more information about each state's volunteerism profile is available at

Scroll down in the main text to "State Profiles" and its drop-down menu. Note that this is NOT the same drop-down menu offered in the home page's left margin under the title "National Service in Your State." )


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060612 VOLUNTEERS

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