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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Why This Counts: Volunteering in the United States

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is best known for our monthly job and inflation reports. We also publish data on many other topics, ranging from how Americans spend their time and money to workplace injuries and the growth of entrepreneurship. My new blog series, “Why This Counts,” will explain why we conduct our surveys and how people can use the data at work and home. I hope this series will take the mystery out of our data and make our work come to life for both new and advanced users.

We recently released data on volunteering in the United States. About 62.8 million people volunteered for an organization at least once between September 2013 and September 2014. That’s 25.3 percent of the nation’s civilian population age 16 and older.

Why do we produce these volunteering data, and how do they affect you?

The mission of BLS and the other federal statistical agencies is to provide quality, unbiased data to support better decisions. Data about volunteers show how volunteering in the United States may be changing. People in communities across the country can use the data to understand civic engagement.

The latest volunteering data come from questions asked in the September 2014 Current Population Survey. That’s the monthly household survey that collects information about people who are working, looking for work, or not in the labor force.

The Corporation for National and Community Service provides funding to ask the questions about volunteering. That federal agency helps Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service.

Volunteers are people who performed unpaid volunteer tasks through or for an organization at any point during the survey reference year. (That’s September 1, 2013, through the week of September 12, 2014.) We ask questions about the number of hours people volunteered, the organizations they served, and the tasks they performed.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, charities, and others use the data to track national volunteering rates and conduct research on volunteer retention, services, and more.

The volunteer data track the number of volunteers in America, their characteristics, and the things they do to serve others. These data help volunteer organizations decide the best ways to recruit volunteers, care for seniors, help communities respond to disasters, teach people to read, and much more.

I’m happy that we produce these data to examine the important, though unpaid, contributions that volunteers make to our economy.