July 25, 2024

National Council on Citizenship Reports Civic Depression

Non Profit Consulting and Training - Wendy Biro-Pollard 097
Although this study was released in August 2009, the information gleaned from this survey is as relevant as ever.

A study released in August 2009 by the National Council on Citizenship (NCOC) indicates that Americans began reducing their volunteer hours when the unemployment rate hit 9 to 10 percent.

According to David B. Smith, NCOC executive director, “Prior recessions have prompted an increase in volunteerism, but only to the point that the unemployment rate reaches a “threshold.”  Smith said, “People have moved from saying, ‘this is the time to rise up and help my community,’ to ‘times are really tough and I need to focus on making sure my family has what it needs to get through this hard time.'”

This study is  in contrast to information reported earlier in the year by the Corporation for National and Community Service which indicated a rise in volunteerism.

Smith said, “Growing need usually encourages more engagement. But when economic pressures on individuals and organization become too great, people turn inward.”

  • 72% of individuals surveyed said that they cut back on time spent volunteering.
  • 66% said that people are responding to the current economic downturn by looking out for themselves.
  • 19% said people around them are responding to the recession by helping each other more.

The economic crisis has triggered civic foreclosure,” said Michael Weiser, NCoC Chairman, “The good heart of Americans is still very evident, though, as they refocus on basic needs.” Even though they are disproportionately affected by the economic downturn, low-income Americans are still finding ways to give back. Thirty-nine percent of individuals with an income less than $50,000 reported helping others by providing food or shelter, compared to 27% of Americans with a higher income.

Overall, 50% of Americans gave food or money to someone who was not a relative, while 17% allowed a relative to live in their home.  More than one-in-ten took in non-relatives.

Unemployment is one reason for the decline in volunteerism. The study also indicates that funding cuts in nonprofit organizations and agencies that provide opportunities for civic engagement may also be a contributing factor. Agencies are often cutting back on the very staff that coordinate volunteers.

Related Articles:

Recession Prompts Many Americans to Stop Volunteering, Study Finds, by Caroline Preston, Chronicle on Philanthropy, Aug 26,2009
Civic Health Index Finds America in the Midst of Civic Foreclosure,  EarthTimes, Aug 27, 2009
Job Lows Don’t Mean Volunteer Highs, Marketplace, National Public Media, Aug 27, 2009
A Gift of Time:  Many start giving of themselves in these tough times, Courier-Journal.com, December 29, 2009

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