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Survey details drop in US volunteering rates

Story at a glance

  • Despite the drop off in formal volunteering rates, rates of informal helping remained steady from 2019 to 2021. 

  • Data were gleaned from the Civic Engagement and Volunteering Supplement.

  • The survey is carried out every two years by AmeriCorps and the US Census Bureau.

From 2019 to 2021, rates of formal volunteering in the United States dropped seven percentage points, according to new survey results.

The Civic Engagement and Volunteering Supplement is carried out by AmeriCorps and the US Census Bureau every two years and measures both formal and informal volunteering at the state and national levels. 

The latest data reflect rates from September 2020 to 2021, while the decline seen in formal volunteering marks the largest change since the organizations began tracking the data in 2002. For women, rates fell by eight percentage points, while men’s rates declined by five percentage points.

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The findings are similar to a recent Gallup poll which found volunteer activity remains below pre-pandemic levels. 

“The pandemic increased demand for many nonprofits’ services, while diminishing their volunteer workforce and changing the ways volunteers were able to serve. Even so, Americans found new ways during the pandemic to help their community,” Mary Hyde, director of AmeriCorps’ Office of Research and Evaluation, told Changing America. 

“It will take time and a concerted effort – from AmeriCorps, from local and federal governmental entities, and local organizations – to raise awareness about opportunities for people to get involved in formal volunteering efforts in and around their communities.” 

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The AmeriCorps data show 23 percent of Americans or around 60 million people formally volunteered with organizations during the time period studied. That total equates to around 4 billion hours served and an economic value of $122.9 billion, researchers found.

Rates of informal helping, or assisting others outside an organizational context, also remained largely the same between 2019 and 2021. 

“Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic, Americans continued to serve one another and their communities,” the report reads. 

“They helped neighbors by doing favors like watching each other’s children, running errands, and more. Americans also helped their communities by supporting COVID-19 testing and vaccination, conducting wellness checks on isolated seniors, supporting food banks, assisting other public health efforts, and helping students stay on track in school.”

In 2021, Utah, Wyoming and Minnesota had the highest rates of formal volunteering, respectively. Women also volunteered more than men on average, and Generation X adults between the ages of 41 and 56 had the highest rate out of all age groups, at 27 percent.

In addition, more parents with children under the age of 18 formally volunteered compared with those without children.

When it comes to non-organized volunteering, just over half of all Americans, or nearly 125 million people, said they exchanged favors with their neighbors between September 2020 and 2021. 

Montana, Nebraska and Maine had the highest informal helping rates in the country, with over 68 percent of Montanans saying they informally helped others in 2021.

Baby Boomers had the highest rates of informal helping at 59 percent. The same percentage of veterans said they helped their neighbors. Nearly 60 percent of those with children under 18 also informally helped their neighbors compared with 49 percent of those without children in their households.

Researchers compared formal and informal volunteering rates among the nation’s 12 largest metro areas. While the Philadelphia Metro Area had the highest rate of formal volunteering at 28.7 percent, the Boston Metro Area had the highest informal helping rate at nearly 58 percent. 

The research “underscores that we are in a defining moment of our time. While we saw the first ever decline in formal volunteering with organizations, we also saw that despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact, Americans support to their neighbors remained steady and tens of millions continued serving their communities,” AmeriCorps CEO Michael D. Smith told Changing America.