Study Finds Drop in Youth Volunteering

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Study Finds Drop in Youth Volunteering

Volunteering has helped define a generation of young Americans who are known for their do-gooder ways. Many high schools require community service before graduation. And these days, donating time to a charitable organization is all but expected on a young person's college or job application.

Even so, an analysis of federal data has found that the percentage of teens who volunteer dipped in recent years, ending an upward trend that began after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"They're still volunteering at higher rates than their parents did," says Peter Levine, director of Tufts University's Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, also known as CIRCLE.

CIRCLE researchers used data from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey for their study, which was released Thursday and funded, in part, by the Corporation for National and Community Service. They found that one in three teens, age 16 to 18, volunteered in 2005, representing a peak in community service for all age groups since the survey began tracking volunteerism in 2002.

In 2006, however, that rate dropped to 29 percent and then to 28 percent in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available. Those are the lowest percentages for that age group since the data has been collected and just one percentage point higher than adults 25 and older each of those years.

But many agree that the reasons behind such numbers are more complicated than young people simply losing interest in giving back. Some nonprofit directors confirm that they've seen a surge in people seeking to volunteer since the recession hit. "It's not just the incredible disappearing teen volunteer," says Robert Rosenthal of San Francisco-based VolunteerMatch.

Project Sunshine, an organization founded by a college student in 1998, has more than 10,000 volunteers who visit hospitalized children. More than half of those are 22 or younger, and hundreds more have asked about volunteering in recent months, says executive director Beatrice Kernan. "We hate to turn down new interest, but we're in a position of having to put this new interest on hold," she says, citing recent staff layoffs.

Source: Washington Examiner