US Volunteers Cut Back on Time
28 September 2009 at 3:26 pm
American volunteers are cutting back their time in the wake of the economic downturn. A new report says they are suffering from a condition called "civic foreclosure" – an ailment that is limiting the range and depth of their civic engagement.
This diagnosis is part of a new study by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC)in their annual America’s Civic Health Index, based on survey data collected in May 2009.
The survey’s results reflect the hard choices Americans have made during the downturn, with 72 percent of respondents saying they have cut back on time engaged in civic participation, which includes time spent volunteering, participating in groups or performing other civic activities in their communities.
The report says public perception supports this finding, as 66 percent of Americans say they feel other people are responding to the current economic downturn by looking out for themselves, with only 19 percent saying people around them are responding to the recession by helping each other more.
Michael Weiser, NCoC Chairman, says the downturn has triggered what he describes ‘civic foreclosure’.
But, he says the good heart of Americans is still very evident as they refocus on basic needs.
He says even though they are disproportionately affected by the economic downturn, low-income Americans are still finding ways to give back to their communities.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents with an income less than $50,000 reported helping others by providing food or shelter, compared to only 27 percent of Americans with a higher income. Overall, 50 percent of Americans gave food or money to someone who was not a relative, while 17 percent allowed a relative to live in their home and more than one-in-ten took in non-relatives.
The Civic Health Index also explored the relationship between online forms of engagement and community-based civic activities. The results found that Millennials who use social networking sites for civic purposes are far more likely to actively engage in civic participation in their communities.
Religion plays a major role in civic engagement, as 40 percent of respondents who reported they are frequent participants in religious services noted they had increased their level of civic engagement. In addition, individuals who reported they had a high level of social activity – visiting often with friends, eating together as a family or belonging to a local club – also reported an increase in civic engagement. The results indicate that social engagement through church, friends or even via social networking sites can have a significant impact in countering the negative effect of the current economic downturn on civic engagement.
The Civic Health Index also found generational differences. Of those surveyed, Baby Boomers had the lowest volunteering rate at 35 percent, while Millennials had the highest rate at 43 percent. However, in terms of material contributions including providing food, money or shelter, Baby Boomers were far more likely to provide support (38 percent) compared to Millennials (28 percent).
John Bridgeland, the Chairman of NCoC’s Advisory Board says they had hoped the economic hardship might trigger more compassion as people saw real suffering and needs.
He says while this is not true for volunteering, it is true for providing food and shelter. And people with the least means are giving the most.