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U.S. volunteerism up in downturn

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PJ staff report

The recession was good for volunteerism, with Americans volunteering in 2009 at a greater rate and in greater numbers than in 2008, a new report says.

In 2009, 26.8 percent of Americans volunteered, up from 26.4 percent in 2008, and the number of volunteers grew to 63.4 million from 61.8 million, representing the biggest one-year increases since 2003, says Volunteering in America 2010, a report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Overall, Americans volunteered 8.1 billion hours valued at $169 billion.

Driving the growth, the report says, were higher volunteer rates among women, especially ages 45 to 54; among married individuals, especially women; and among Americans with jobs, especially individuals working full-time.

All those groups typically volunteer at a higher rate than their counterparts, including men, unmarried individuals, and individuals without jobs.

Populations with the highest volunteer rates also included individuals with children under age 18 in the home, and individuals with a high-school diploma or college degree.

Volunteer rates were highest among working mothers and grew the most, to 20 percent from 19.2 percent, and among African Americans, to 20.2 percent from 19.1 percent, with the rate among African-American women growing to 22.8 percent from 21.2 percent.

Religious organizations remained the most popular groups among volunteers, although the number of volunteers serving with social and community-service groups also grew, to 8.8 million in 2009 from 8.4 million in 2008.

Among volunteers, 26.6 percent participating in fundraising or selling items to raise money, representing the most popular volunteer activity, trailed by 23.5 percent who collected, prepared, distributed or served food, 20.5 percent who engaged in general labor or provided transportation, and 19 percent who tutored or taught.

Community factors that led to higher rates of volunteering included higher home-ownership rates; higher education levels; larger numbers of nonprofits per-capita; and shorter average commuting times.

Factors that led to lower volunteer rates included higher percentages of multi-unit housing; longer commuting times; and higher rates of poverty, unemployment and foreclosure.

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