Where Are America's Volunteers?

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Grimm, Robert T., Jr., and Dietz, Nathan. 2018. “Where Are America’s Volunteers? A Look at America’s Widespread Decline in Volunteering in Cities and States.” Research Brief: Do Good Institute, University of Maryland.



While the United States recently experienced record highs in total volunteer hours and charitable dollars given to community organizations, these seemingly positive numbers mask a troubling trend: fewer Americans are engaging in their community by volunteering and giving than in any time in the last two decades.

The importance of recognizing and addressing this decline in American’s participation in their community cannot be overstated. Throughout the country, volunteers work with congregations, charities, and other nonprofit organizations to provide needed services of all types to people and communities. However, while people, communities, and organizations all rely on the work provided by volunteers, volunteering also generates indirect positive benefits for communities and for volunteers themselves.

Given the decline of charitable behaviors among Americans and the importance of these behaviors for the well-being of individuals and communities, this brief analyzes data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) to explore – for the first time – how the recent national decline in American volunteering played out in all 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) and 215 metro areas. Every September between 2002 and 2015, the CPS collected national statistics on volunteering through a supplemental survey. Among its many strengths, the CPS sample includes more than 55,000 households that generate reliable statistics for all states and most major metropolitan areas.