Natalie DiBlasio, USA TODAY
Volunteerism is slightly down in the U.S, according to a new study that ranks states on their philanthropic efforts.
This year, 62.6 million Americans volunteered for nearly 7.7 billion hours, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service's annual "Volunteering and Civic Life in America Report." That's down from 64.5 million Americans volunteering nearly 7.9 billion hours last year.
Citizens of Utah, Idaho, Minnesota, Kansas and Wisconsin are leading the way in overall volunteerism while Louisiana, New York, Nevada, Florida and Arkansas remain the least philanthropic for the second year in a row. "It ticks up and down," says Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service. "I don't think it's significant."
"We've seen the national results come back and have been dismayed," says Judd Jeansonne, executive director of government-run Volunteer Louisiana. Only 17.8% of Louisiana residents volunteer, according to the survey.
"We don't feel that these numbers reflect what's truly going on in the state," Jeansonne says.
He says Southern states with a more religious population often get low marks because of a technicality.
"A lot of folks think of church volunteering as a spiritual activity and don't connect it with volunteerism," Jeansonne says. "We've conducted our own surveys with a prompt to include church volunteering and it added roughly 10% onto our volunteerism rates."
Still, Jeansonne says, Louisiana is doing its part to encourage more volunteerism through a few new programs.
For the first time this year, students who do community service all four years of high school can get a special endorsement on their diploma. Louisiana also launched an online volunteer management system in October that helps match volunteers with volunteering opportunities.
Utah has been ranked as the No. 1 state since 2009.
"Utahns truly embody the spirit of volunteerism," Gov. Gary Herbert said. "The people in our state are always willing to lend a hand where needed, whether it's tutoring children, supporting our veterans, caring for the elderly or helping preserve Utah's natural resources."
LaDawn Stoddard, executive director with UServeUtah, the Utah Commission on Service and Volunteerism, says volunteering is just in Utah's culture.
"We are a young, family-oriented state," Stoddard says. "Parents volunteer with their kids, and kids just think that's what you do when you grow up. It's cyclical."
The annual survey breaks down which age groups do the most volunteering and how they go about doing it.
"The busiest people are parents of school-aged children, and they have the highest rate of volunteering of any group," Spencer says. "They want to make sure the community they are raising their families in have all the assets they want."
The study found that Americans ages 35-44 had the highest volunteer rate of 31.3%, followed by those ages 45-54 at 29.4%. The least likely to volunteer are those 20-24, where volunteerism is at 19%.
Seniors give the most time. Seniors 65 and over give a median of 92 volunteer hours per year, the study found. For other groups, the median is about 50. "That tells us that seniors are getting very connected," Spencer says. "It gives them a reason to get up every day."
Carlene Igras, 59, volunteers at a local preschool in Vero Beach, Fla., Monday through Friday from 8:30-11:30 a.m., working one-on-one with the children to prepare them for kindergarten.
"I wasn't ready to be retired full time," Igras says. "It got me into the community right away. I just needed to feel like a part of our new home. This is perfect."
More than a quarter of America's volunteers opt for fundraising or selling items to raise money, the report found. About 24% collect, distribute or prepare food; 19.6% provide transportation and general labor support; 18% tutor or teach youth; 17.3% mentor youth; and 15% lend professional and management expertise.
Joseph Austin, 24, a second-year law student at Texas Tech University, volunteers with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance preparing tax returns for low-income individuals and families.
"In college, there are so many times you're just learning from books or in the classroom," Austin says. "You think, 'How is this actually going to help someone? How does this do more than just get me a check for myself?' This shows you."
The report found that in addition to service, volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity than non-volunteers.
The report found some good news for good-doers. Volunteers have higher odds of finding a job after being out of wok than non-volunteers. Those without a high school diploma have a 51% higher likelihood of getting a job if they volunteer, and the number goes up to 55% for those in rural areas.
Spencer says she hopes that, regardless of the motivation, volunteer rates increase next year.
"I hope Americans will look at the holiday season as their opportunity to make a New Year's resolution to volunteer," Spencer says. "This unifies America."