Volunteers in Oregon, the backbone of our economy

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by Kay Helbling

The backbone of the U.S. economy is not stocks and bonds or even low unemployment rates and productivity levels, the backbone of the economy is the volunteer. No one understands that more than the stay-at-home moms or even working moms for that matter. If we’d have to pay workers to perform the hours that are given freely by those who deliver food to the needy, care for the elderly, coach the children, or teach the students, our markets competitive edge in the global community would take a beating.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics, without volunteers we’d be paying over 60 million people who performed over 8.1 billion hours of service last year.  I’ll do the math. At the estimated U.S. volunteer labor rate of approximately $20 an hour, that is $162 billion of saved salaries. And that is just those reported service hours.

The overall percent of youth through seniors who volunteer across the U.S is impressive, but the demographic breakdown does show some surprising results. Consistently, the mid-aged adult carries the largest percentage in the upper 20’s to 30 percentile. Just 1-2% below them are the youth. One out of every four of our teenagers are voluteering their time. Even though many of us may be under the general impression that seniors provide the vast number of volunteers, they actually figure in at about 5% less than the adult and youth.

On average, Oregon has about 1 million volunteers each year who dedicate 140 million hours. With Oregon’s hourly volunteer rate set at $17.33, they provide an estimated annual economic contribution of $2.7 billion. How does that stack up against other states? Quite well, actually. The state with the highest volunteer rate is Utah at 64%. Oregon’s volunteer rate is 33%, which still earns it a respectable ranking of 16th within the 50 states and D.C. But, most exceptional is the number of hours served. Oregon is ranked 5th of the states, with an average of 48 hours of service per resident annually. That is about a million of us serving at least an hour every week.

Work like that can not be measured on the NASDAQ charts, but its the labor that makes us a nation of strength, and 2009 will likely be no exception.

National Volunteer Week is April 23-29

Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest with her best friend—her husband