As President Bush pushes for more Americans to volunteer, a new national data book shows what looks like a sharp drop in adult volunteerism between 1998 and 2000.
The nearly 1,000-page Statistical Abstract of the United States for 2002 released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau, indicates that 44 percent of U.S. adults provided volunteer services in 2000, down from 55.5 percent two years earlier.
More encouraging was the findings that the 44 percent who did volunteer in 2000 contributed an average of 15.1 hours per month, compared with 14 hours in 1998.
The data book is hailed as a great resource for tracking trends. But a person looking for trends from the 1998 and 2000 volunteerism data would be disappointed. A spokesman for the U.S. Census Bureau said the two surveys were conducted by different organizations that used different methodologies.
The figures on volunteerism are part of a cornucopia of data included in the 122nd edition of the data book, which was first published in 1878. Other topics examined include the use of computers on the job, dog or cat preferences as pets, average cell phone use and bills, expenditures for gambling, home schooling and college students with credit-card balances.
“We’ve got all kinds of tidbits in here. It’s America in numbers,” said Glenn King, director of the Census Bureau staff that assembles the data book.
Lars Johanson, technical coordinator of the latest book, said livestock operations with swine were more than cut in half between 1995 (168,000) and 2001 (81,000).
“Almost all of the decline occurred among operations with fewer than 500 head,” he said. “That’s more evidence that small farms can’t compete with large ones.”
Compiled by each year, the data book uses statistics from the Census Bureau and private sources. For example, it was the American Veterinary Medical Association that found that about 36 percent of household pets are dogs, while 32 percent are cats.
Asked to comment on the decline in volunteerism found in the two most recent publications, Mr. Johanson said the findings came from two different polling groups, which used different approaches. Data used in the 121st edition came from Gallup and the 122nd-edition data came from Westat Inc.
“In 1998, Gallup covered a population 18 and older. In 2000, Westat covered a population 21 and over,” he said. “You are bound to have differences when you have two different sample sizes.”
Those differences also could have affected what appears to be drops in participation in specific types of volunteerism. For example, the 122nd edition of the data book revealed the largest share of volunteers in 2000 19.1 percent were involved in religious activities, according to Westat. But in 1998, Gallup’s research showed nearly 23 percent of American adults helped out in religious work.
Likewise, one chart shows that nearly 18 percent of Americans volunteered for educational duties in 1998. But findings from the 2000 poll show that proportion plunged to under 8 percent.