Volunteering rates have been on the decline since 2003, according to a 2018 analysis of Census Bureau data by the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland. And at the heart of this decline, the study found, is people’s own hardships, as higher levels of economic distress were often mentioned as a reason why people weren’t volunteering their time and money more often.
Furthermore, the study found that rural areas, where the rates of volunteering work are historically higher, are also seeing the spirit of giving losing momentum.
Researchers believe that as churches no longer play a significant role in people’s lives in these regions, opportunities for volunteering also have become more scarce.
In either case, socioeconomic struggles are the root of the matter, as less financially stable individuals have priorities that do not include giving their time, and especially their money, to others in need.
But why exactly did our financial situation become so unsteady?
Turns out the government has a lot to do with it.
Volunteering Meets Its Demise
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans felt the urge to come together in the face of uncertainty. This drove the volunteering rate up and prompted the federal government to officially designate 9/11 as the National Day of Service and Remembrance.
But while Americans do show up on 9/11 each year, with 30 million participating in some way, the country never managed to reach the 28.8 percent overall volunteer rate registered in 2005, with rates dropping to 24.9 percent in 2015.
According to Do Good Institute’s director, Robert Grimm, the decline seems to be part of a national trend.
“Thirty-one states have experienced a decline in volunteering over the last decade; not one state saw an increase,” he said.
But while 9/11 inaugurated a new time in America politics, bringing about foreign intervention and wars that, for the most part, continue to this day, the tragedy didn’t just shape our relationship with other countries. It also impacted our economy.
From President George W. Bush’s inflationary policies to President Barack Obama’s entrapment of both the health care industry and poor patients and now more recently to President Donald Trump’s tariff war, Americans have yet to get a break. In the meantime, their money is losing its purchasing power while the things they want to buy are getting more and more expensive.
Furthermore, young Americans, the most educated generation in history, are broke — not only because they are failing to find gainful employment but also because their education is costing them their livelihood.
The government’s ongoing involvement in the student loan business drove the cost of higher education so high that young adults today feel they will die in debt. Additionally, many can only manage to pay their bills if they take on side gigs.
But it isn’t just young Americans who aren’t able to give more because of their financial problems.
The Taxes Are Too Damn High
For the most part, Americans are overtaxed and overtariffed. And when you pay so much in tariffs and taxes, it’s easy to say no to setting aside some money for charity. That’s because, to the average American, the federal government uses his or her money for charitable purposes. And when the government is running programs that target the poor, why should they give more money to private charities?
The reality is that the government is incompetent. It also requires much more money to work remotely well than a private charity does. With that in mind, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that if Americans were to stop paying taxes and start giving their cash to private charities instead, a much larger number of people would be helped — and more effectively too.
With the U.S. government taking in more taxes each year, it is clear that Americans aren’t able to use their hard-earned money for good. Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons why Americans aren’t volunteering as often as we once did.
Permission to republish granted by the American Institute for Economic Research.