Volunteering drives civic engagement

PJ staff report

More Americans are volunteering, despite the challenges stemming from the recession, and volunteers are more likely than other Americans to get involved in civic life in other ways, a new report says.

People who are more socially connected are more likely to get involved in service activities like volunteering, and those who use the internet are more likely to volunteer, says the Civic Life in America, an issue brief by the Corporation for National & Community Service, and the National Conference on Citizenship.

“Americans are coming together to solve challenges,” the report says. “They are tilting towards the issues and not running away from them.”

The report also says veterans are more generally involved in their communities than non-veterans.

In 2009, 63.4 million adults, or 26.5 percent of Americans age 16 and older, volunteered 8.1 billion hours, an increase of 1.6 million volunteers from 2008.

Those represented the biggest increase in volunteers since 2003 and the highest volunteer rate since 2005.

While volunteering and voting are two familiar forms of civic engagement, Americans also get involved by working with neighbors to fix community problems, participating in community and other groups, connecting to information and the news, and social connectedness with family, friends and others.

Between 2007 and 2009, for example, about 18.6 million adults worked with their neighbors to fix a community problem, and over 12 million people, or 5.1 percent of Americans, both volunteered and worked with neighbors to solve community problems.

The most popular type of organization for volunteers were religious groups, which accounted for 35.6 percent of volunteers, compared to 26.6 percent for educational or youth services, 13.8 percent  for social or community services groups, and 8.3 percent for hospital or other health-related services.

Americans also participate in groups, with roughly 35 percent of Americans age 18 and older participating in one of more groups, with 18 percent participating in a church group or religious organization, again the most popular, followed by 15.4 percent who participated in school groups.

Eighty-six percent of adults frequently get their news from television, compared to 67.5 percent from newspapers and 54.5 percent from radio.

Adults who participate in service are more likely to attend political meetings, while people who stay in more frequently social contact with others are more likely in general to participate in electoral and non-electoral political activities.

And those who are more socially connected are more likely to engage in formal and informal service activities and more likely to belong to groups or associations.

People who have access to the Internet in their home and people who use the Internet where they can are more likely to get involved in every type of civic activity the report examines.

“The ‘digital divide’ is not only about Internet access, but it is also about Internet use – particularly when it comes to determining who is most likely to engage civically,” the report says.

The voting rate among Internet households is 19 percentage points higher than non-Internet households, and that gap grows to over 22 percentage points when Internet users are compared to non-users.

Among adults over age 25, college graduates are most likely to participate in key civic activities.

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