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Volunteering down in N.C., U.S.

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By Ret Boney

Driven in part by low volunteer-retention rates, the number of people volunteering in North Carolina dropped last year, mirroring a national trend, a new report says.

In North Carolina, 1.73 million people donated their time in 2006, down from a peak of more than 2 million in 2004, says “Volunteering in America: 2007 State Trends and Rankings in Civic Life,” published by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Combined, those volunteers donated 206.4 million hours and ranked 25th in the U.S. when comparing three-year averages of hours volunteered by residents.

Nationwide, the number of volunteers dropped to 61.2 million, the lowest number since 2002, and below the peak of 65.4 million posted in 2005, the study says. [See related story.]

The rate of volunteering in North Carolina fell last year as well, down to 25.7 percent of the population from 29.9 percent in 2005.

Almost four in 10 North Carolinians who volunteered in 2005 did not continue in 2006, the study says, a rate that is higher than the national average of one in three.

Combined, North Carolinians volunteered 206.4 million hours, the study says, down from a high of 338.8 million hours in 2004.

However, the number of volunteers has grown sharply since 1989, when it stood at about one million, for a volunteer rate of about 20 percent.

Volunteer rates, based on three-year averages, varied widely across the country, with Utah in the lead with almost 46 percent of the population volunteering, and North Carolina coming in at 29th.

The largest portion of North Carolinians, almost half, volunteered through a religious organization, while more than two in 10 assisted education or youth-service groups and more than one in ten engaged in social or community service.

For the first time, the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2006 assessed the population’s level of civic engagement.

The Civic Life Index measures individuals’ involvement in society along 12 indicators, including volunteering, voting and neighborhood engagement, with the nation’s average score serving as the index of 100.

According to the new measure, Montana is the most civically-engaged state, with a score of 126, while North Carolina ranks 41st with a score of 97.5.

Overall, 54.6 percent of North Carolinians voted in the 2004 general election, the study says, while fewer than three in 10 voted in the latest mid-term election and only 7.6 percent attended a public meeting.

The report is based data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

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