Volunteers of America

If you look just at what Americans do for a living, you miss a realm of work that has much to do with how lots of people define themselves. The U.S. is a nation of unpaid coaches, tutors, fundraisers, ride-givers and whatnot — a point documented in a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report released last month, based on data covering September 2007-September 2008. During that period, it estimates, 26 percent of the population age 16-plus volunteered at least once through or for an organization. (The BLS didn’t include the efforts of freelance good-deed-doers, to borrow a phrase from the Wizard of Oz.)

Women were more likely than men to have volunteered (29 percent vs. 23 percent). In a breakdown by age group, 35-44-year-olds were the most likely to have volunteered (31 percent) and 20-24s the least likely (19 percent). Despite the demands it makes on adults’ time, the presence of children in the household goes in tandem with a high incidence of volunteer work: 34 percent of parents with kids under age 18 at home did volunteer work, vs. 24 percent of those without kids around.

The report also looked at the types of work volunteers were most likely to perform. Atop the list was fundraising (cited by 11 percent of volunteers), followed by tutoring/teaching (10 percent). Also on the list: collecting/preparing/distributing/serving food (9 percent), general labor/supplying transportation (9 percent), providing professional/management assistance (8 percent) and coaching/refereeing/supervising sports teams (6 percent). Among people who did volunteer, the median amount of time spent at it during the year covered by the report was 52 hours.