The spirit of volunteerism in the United States has been in decline since the 9/11 terrorist attacks when one out of every three Americans stepped up to serve, according to a report Friday in the Bergen County Record
The New Jersey newspaper reported that 3.6 million fewer people volunteered last year than had done so in 2006, when a record-level of Americans sought to fulfill their civic responsibility.
But some experts who study volunteerism say the decline was due more to nonprofits that failed to take full advantage of the volunteers who did step forward to offer their services.
“Non-profits tend to treat volunteers as not very serious contributors,” the Record quoted Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, as saying.
Others experts, however, told the newspaper that the causes of the downturn are more complex — ranging from the economic turmoil many Americans face today to the simple fact that 9/11 is no longer at “the forefront of many people’s consciousness.”
“Are we the kind of country that really requires an attack like that to bring out the character of our communities? That’s a persistent question in the history of democracies,” Leslie Lenkowsky, professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University, told the Record. “The answer could be yes.”
The paper also noted that the political mood of the nation “has contributed to a declining sense of unity and self-sacrifice,” which is a different attitude from that displayed by most Americans before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“I think initially the war on terror was, in quotes, a ‘good war.’ As the decade went on, that was not so clear. Some people began having their doubts,” said Lenkowsky, who headed the Corporation for National and Community Service during the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency.
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