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Volunteerism in U.S. inches up

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In spite of the foreclosure crisis, rising joblessness and market volatility that heralded the current recession, about 61.8 million Americans volunteered in 2008, up slightly from the 60.8 million who gave their time the year before, a new report says.

That reverses a two-year decline both in the number of volunteers and the rate of volunteerism, which in 2008 rose slightly to 26.4 percent from 26.2 percent in 2007, says the report from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Together, volunteers donated time valued at about $162 billion, using $20.25 as the dollar value of a volunteer hour as calculated by Independent Sector.

That’s the equivalent of about 3.8 million full-time workers.

And informal volunteering, such as working with neighbors to fix a community problem, rose 31 percent last year, while attendance at community meetings was up 17 percent.

The nation’s youth, defined as those ages 16 to 24, stepped up their involvement last year, with the number volunteering growing by over 441,000 to reach a total of more than 8.2 million in 2008.

More than a third of volunteers give their time through a religious organization, while slightly more than a quarter volunteer through an educational institution and 13 percent volunteer with a social-services group.

About 26.9 percent of volunteers gave their time by fundraising, while 23.6 percent collected or distributed food, 20.9 percent performed general labor and 19.7 either taught or tutored.

Once again, Utah led the U.S. in volunteerism, with 43.5 percent of the adult population giving their time, followed by Nebraska, with 38.9 percent, and Minnesota, with 38.4 percent.

About 7.1 million Californians volunteered in 2008, more than any other state, accounting for about 12 percent of all U.S. volunteers.

Among the large cities analyzed, Minneapolis-St. Paul had the top volunteer rate of 38.4 percent, while New York City topped the list for number of volunteers with 2.4 million.

However, among mid-sized cities, Provo, Utah reported a volunteer rate of 62.9 percent, followed by Iowa City with 49.2 percent.

There is evidence that the upward trend in volunteering will continue in 2009, given that more than a third of nonprofits surveyed reported an increase in volunteers from March of 2008 to March of 2009, and almost half expect to increase their use of volunteers this year.

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