Volunteering Can Lead to Greater Economic Opportunity for Youth

Sep 30, 2014

A new report released this week by Opportunity Nation, with support from the Citi Foundation, provides fresh and compelling evidence that certain types of civic engagement predict positive outcomes for at-risk and low income youth and the economic health of states.


“Connecting Youth and Strengthening Communities: The Data Behind Civic Engagement and Economic Opportunity” was produced by Opportunity Nation with data and analysis provided by Measure of America, and builds on previous studies that explore the relationship between civic engagement and upward mobility.

The report’s findings suggest:

  • The chance that a young adult is disconnected from work or school drops in half, from 11.1 percent to 5.7 percent, if he or she volunteers.
  • Civic engagement – specifically volunteering and participation in a civic or service organization – is a significant predictor of economic opportunity across states. 
  • In places with higher rates of volunteerism, income inequality tends to be lower.

The report highlights how civic engagement may help youth – particularly low-income teens and young adults ages 16-24 – build social capital and skills that can help them find meaningful education and career pathways.

The analysis also found that two forms of civic engagement – volunteering and membership in a civic or service organization – are significant predictors of economic opportunity across states.

“We hope our findings serve as a rallying cry for increased attention and support for civic engagement initiatives,” said Russell Krumnow, managing director of Opportunity Nation. “Volunteering or joining in a charitable cause are not just feel-good activities, but powerful ways to increase economic opportunity at a time when Americans are searching for as many tools as possible to improve their prospects and provide for their families.”

“Today 5.8 million young people – about one in seven Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 – are neither working nor in school,” said Kristen Lewis, co-director of Measure of America. “Finding ways to connect them to mainstream opportunities is vital to their futures.”

The report’s findings support specific calls to action, including:

  • The expansion of volunteering opportunities for low-income youth
  • Increased membership in civic and service organizations for Americans of all ages
  • More employer-led volunteer programs and civic projects to ensure professionals interact with youth one-on-one with a goal of helping more young Americans build the skills, confidence and networks they need to succeed in today’s workforce

In March 2014, the Citi Foundation launched Pathways to Progress, a $50 million commitment to jumpstart economic opportunities for 100,000 low-income young people in 10 major U.S. cities. A key component of this initiative is ServiceWorks, the largest corporate-sponsored AmeriCorps VISTA program – funded by the Citi Foundation and launched in partnership with Points of Light in July. Through ServiceWorks, AmeriCorps VISTA members engage young people in civic engagement and volunteerism activities.  

“As the needs of employers continue to evolve, it is crucial that young people are prepared with the workplace skills and leadership experience necessary to compete in a 21st Century economy,” said Brandee McHale, chief operating officer of the Citi Foundation. “The findings of this report by Opportunity Nation confirm that civic engagement and volunteerism activities – like those happening through ServiceWorks – can be an effective onramp for helping young people move towards college and career success.”

Click here to read a full copy “Connecting Youth and Strengthening Communities: The Data Behind Civic Engagement and Economic Opportunity.”