The Job Hunt: Volunteering numbers flat in U.S.

With more people being unemployed, you'd think more would be volunteering. After all, with all that free time, and the fact that the volunteer work would look good on a resume and might lead to a job, volunteering is a good way to spend some of those extra hours.

While an astonishing 26.4% of the U.S. population, or 61.8 million people, volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2007 and September 20008, the numbers remained essentially unchanged from the prior year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The most common activities they performed were fund raising, and tutoring or teaching. A median number of hours spent volunteering was 52 hours during the year.

As unemployment has risen, volunteering in America has remained the same. The latest national unemployment figures show a 7.2% unemployment rate in December 2008, up from 4.9% a year ago.

Employed people spent more time volunteering than the unemployed, at 28.9% for workers and 22.3% for the unemployed, and 22.2% for people not in the labor force. Maybe the unemployed are using their new-found free time job hunting, while the employed are enjoying their free time volunteering. Part-time workers were more likely than full-time workers to volunteer, 34.2% versus 27.8%, the study found. So at least the part-time workers are doing something constructive with the extra hours they're not at work.

Religious organizations received most of these volunteers, 35.1%, followed by educational or youth services related at 26% and 13.5% for social or community service organizations.

I didn't have time to volunteer at all when I was fully employed, partly because I have a young child and didn't have the extra time. But after I was laid off in June 2008, I had more time to try such things, and ended up doing some volunteer work for a Congressional candidate in this past election. I admit some of it had to do with an ulterior motive that the experience might lead to a job, and though it hasn't yet, it was great experience, fun and gave me a chance to learn something new while using my writing and editing skills, among others.

Just this week I volunteered at my daughter's preschool, although it's a condition of our co-op. And when she decides to join a soccer team or some fun activity, I expect to be out there helping. That's the main reason to volunteer.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at

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