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Decline in national youth volunteer rate

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 23, 2009 - In the same week that President Barack Obama signed into law a substantial increase in national service opportunities, there’s fresh evidence that volunteer rates have decreased nationally among high school-aged students. Just not in Missouri. However, according to the study from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, far fewer of the state's college-aged students are giving their time.

The report from CIRCLE, based at Tufts University, calculated youth volunteer trends from 2002 to 2007 by using the Current Population Survey, jointly produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.

Across the country, roughly 27 percent of people ages 16 to 18 volunteered in 2007 (the last year the survey measures), down from the high of 33 percent in 2005. The 18-and-under demographic has long led the way in volunteer rates, but that changed in 2007, as people 25 and older took the lead with a rate of 28 percent. The 19-to-25 group had an 18 percent volunteer rate, which has changed little over time.  

CIRCLE’s report also breaks down volunteer rates by state. Bucking the national trend, 37 percent of Missourians in the 16-to-18 age group volunteered in 2007 compared to 33 percent in 2002. The current rate is among the highest in the country. (Oregon led with 48 percent.)

It's a different story, though, for Missouri's 19-to-25 population. The survey shows that only 19 percent of people in this group volunteered in 2007 (in the middle of the pack nationally), down from 34 percent in 2002. That amounts to the largest percentage drop of any state when looking at college-aged students. Interestingly, back in 2002, this age group led all others in Missouri in volunteer rates.  

Missouri ranks somewhere in the middle for the 25-and-older set, with a 30 percent rate in 2007. For that year, Illinois saw rates of 28, 18 and 27 percent for youth, college-aged and 25-and up, respectively.

In the years since 9/11, there's been lots of talk about how young people are more involved in volunteer activities and more interested in national service. It should be noted, too, that high school students today still volunteer in greater numbers than did their parents.

Peter Levine, CIRCLE’s director, said in a statement that the drop in young people volunteering “should be a matter of concern.”  He pointed to a dearth of federal and state policies that incorporate service-learning, defined as tying community service to academic instruction. A study from the Corporation for National and Community Service found that more public schools are making community service available, but much of that volunteering doesn’t meet the standard of service-learning. Only Maryland and the District of Columbia require high school students to volunteer in order to graduate, according to the report. Missouri has no such policies regarding service-learning.

I'll have more on what these numbers mean and what people make of them in the coming days...

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