Volunteer, it’s good for the economy

Volunteer, it’s good for the economy

Two things you should know about volunteering in America: Americans are doing it in growing numbers and it could have an impact on the jobless rate.

In a 2010 report — the last year for which numbers are available — the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) found that 63.4 million adult Americans — nearly 27 percent of the population — volunteered to help charitable causes the previous year. That’s an increase from 2008 of roughly 1.6 million volunteers, the largest single-year jump since 2003.

That same report drew some interesting comparisons between the economy and regional volunteer rates. For instance, the five cities with the highest foreclosure rates in 2009 — Las Vegas; Riverside, Calif.; Miami; and Orlando, Fla. — ranked in the bottom 10 in volunteer rates among large cities. And states with higher unemployment rates —Michigan and Nevada — had much lower rates of volunteering at 28.3 and 20.9 percent respectively.

(Pennsylvania, by the way, ranked 28 in that report with 27.4 percent of its residents volunteering, while neighboring West Virginia came in at 35 with a 25.4 percent volunteer rate.)

As CNCS points out, states with high rates of unemployment usually have low volunteer rates.

In addition, a 2011 report from by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) found that states with higher levels of “civic engagement” are more resilient in a recession.

Of states with the highest rates of volunteering, the report found, Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and South Dakota had the smallest increase in unemployment between 2006 and 2010. Of the states with the lowest rates of volunteering, Alabama, California, Florida, Nevada and Rhode Island had the highest increase in unemployment.

The report also measured the impact other factors had on volunteering — attending meetings, helping neighbors, registering to vote, volunteering and voting — but that unemployment finding struck us as significant.

“Civic engagement is more than a feel-good exercise or simply raking a neighbor’s yard,” NCoC Executive Director David B. Smith said at the time the report came out. “It is about human connection and building trust. These are the same traits that have made America a nation of innovators, driving the expansion of both economic and social capital.”

We think he’s on to something.

This week, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh held its annual meeting “starring you,” as it said its promotion for the event. That was an appropriate slogan since the idea behind this year’s meeting was to shine the spotlight on community volunteers.

As is done every year, the Federation announced the names of volunteers of the year from each agency, organization and congregation. Those names will  be printed in the Chronicle — as usual.

Well and good. Honoring those who step up and give their time for purely altruistic reasons is something this community should do. But the reports we quoted above lend a new urgency to their work while encouraging new faces to join them.

Volunteering is not only a good thing to do in and of itself, it could jumpstart a sputtering economy. It gets people out of their houses; it gives them productive tasks to complete; it provides them chances to meet and network with potential employers. It offers forums to showcase their talents.

That’s how you grease an economy.

If you already volunteer in Jewish Pittsburgh, thank you. If you don’t, please consider doing it. It’s not only a good thing to do, it could be a smart career investment.