Saturday, November 8, 2008

Just a bit more on volunteering...

... because responding to Anonymous on the previous post made me want to go look up the statistics.

According to World Volunteer Web, basing its story on Bureau of Labor Statistics data:

The number of Americans who volunteer to mentor students, beautify neighborhoods and pitch in after disasters is at a 30-year high, fueled in part by a boom in teen participation, a new study says.

The report by the Corporation for National and Community Service tracked volunteer rates since 1974. It found that more than 1 in 4 adults — or 27 percent — give time to their communities, a jump from a low of 20.4 percent recorded in 1989.

Moreover, the same source indicates that volunteerism in America has been steadily rising during Dubya's administration (not that I'm willing to give him any credit for that).

The US is also unique relative to the rest of the world, a Japanese expert on volunteerism tells us, both in the generosity with which we give our time and the money:

The United States is the most advanced country in philanthropy, in terms of percentage of income (GDP) given to charities and average number of hours given for volunteering. In the USA, many non-profit organizations have an important role. In Japan, as well as in most European countries, these functions are more often filled by local and national governments.

According to a 1999 survey by Independent Sector, the percentage of volunteers in America is the largest of any country, almost 56%. The average hours volunteered per week by an individual is 3.5 hours. This is down from 4.2% in 1995, but still exceptional.

According to the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel, donations to charity reached 2.1% of the GDP in 1999. This is also exceptional. The United States is greatly helped by its volunteers and donors.

Why is it so? There are various reasons.

First, the desire to work together and help others comes from the foundation of the country. In the United States, the notion of "the people" preceded that of "the government" in its creation. The founders were disappointed with their former countries and did not want to have a powerful government. They wanted to build their communities for themselves. Also, the United States is a country of immigrants seeking to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.

Americans still have a strong sense of community. According to a survey*, those who think the government should take basic responsibility to help needy people make up 40% and those who think private sectors such as companies and charitable organizations should hold the primary responsibility of helping the needy are 31%. If the Japanese people were asked the same questions, I believe that most would answer that the government should take charge. Japan has had a long tradition of putting the government above the people....

It is important to note that these studies and statistics only account for Americans who volunteer through organizations that keep records of hours and participation. My wife's family has a tradition of adopting a needy family throughout the holidays, from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. Not only do they receive gifts and food, but family members go into their house [having several engineers among my in-laws] and do major repairs on appliances, heating systems, etc. Number of hours recorded by the government: nada. Number of families around the country who do something similar: tens if not hundreds of thousands.

I would be willing to be that the number of volunteer hours and dollars outside the network of formal organizations [I like to think of this as Libertarian volunteerism] equals or exceeds that done through actions the government tracks.

Just as there are black and grey markets for the exchange of goods and services, people in this country have always given freely.

The inherent dishonesty in the new progressive/liberal paradigm that more people need to give back stems from the narrative that they are trying to create: Instead of acknowledging the inherent generosity of the population, they prefer to see us as a people who need to be led, incentivized, and required by government to live up to our social contract.

There's an accepted political science term for this: A Big Lie.


Anonymous said...

It's me, "anonymous", back again (sorry to have dropped the previous thread, I am on and off the 'net.)

I am still not convinced that the service plan is going to be required and compulsory*, though. Or where it was said that the President-Elect & Co thought people were chronically uninvolved.

(*I previously would have said "Compulsory service? Great!", but in your previous post, I saw your point, I suppose...)

And I am similarly unsure that incentives and rewards are a bad thing...I too see people already ARE serving their community - I am one of them and know many of them - and I like the idea that we would be recognized and rewarded as fulfilling a civic duty for doing so, with tax breaks and such. (Like a recent proposal I saw that would enable me to reduce my student loans by working for a nonprofit, or as a public schoolteacher or other jobs with a decidedly more civic bent.) Which I believe is the point.

My impression was always that it was about rewarding the many who already DO, and pushing those who are inclined but discouraged by reasons of money and time, to push themselves a little harder to get there. There's a pool of 75% of the adult population to draw from, and as a volunteer, you must know there is always so much more to be done.

Your kneejerk reaction to the notion is just strange to me...

But as a disclaimer, I am a chronic volunteer, run nonprofit programs, and am an Americorps alumna. I guess I am in the tank for service, and financial benefits for said service whenever possible. (My Americorps education credit was a big deal to me!)

Delaware Watch said...

Perhaps we should rid ourselves of WIC, welfare, public education, social security, indeed all forms of public assistance because the 2.1% of the US GDP will take care of every need in a nation where 50% of the population reports to the IRS household income of $30,000 or less.

Yea, that should fix us right up.

Steven H. Newton said...

You're confusing the issue (or at least my position): I did not suggest volunteerism as a substitute for anything.

I suggested that volunteerism should remain ... wait for it ... voluntary.

Anonymous said...

"Instead of acknowledging the inherent generosity of the population, (liberals) prefer to see us as a people who need to be led, incentivized, and required by government to live up to our social contract."

I think the underlying issue is that liberals believe that traditional philanthropy goes to the "wrong" things. Every dollar that goes into a church collection plate takes methadone out of an addict's hands. Every dollar that goes to the Smithsonian is taken from an artist who want to put a crucifix in a jar of piss. Every hour spent cleaning oil off of birds and turtles (my mom volunteers at Tri-State Bird Rescue) is an hour that should have been spent registering the homeless to vote for Obama.

See, it's not that we're not philanthropic enough, it's that it's misdirected, and it's up to them to do what's best for "the common good."