New study from CEPR examines relationship between volunteering and paid work during periods of high unemployment.

For Immediate Release: June 17, 2013
Contact: Alan Barber (202) 293-5380 x115

Washington, D.C. - The United States continues to face persistently high levels of unemployment and an increased share of workers have found themselves out of work for an extended period of time. Some, including many recent college graduates, look to volunteer work as a way to build their resumes and gain valuable experience. A new analysis from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) examines volunteering as a pathway to finding a job during a period of high unemployment.

The report, “Does It Pay to Volunteer: The Relationship Between Volunteer Work and Paid Work,”  estimates non-working individuals’ probability of being employed a year later if they volunteered during the 12-month period. Pooling three years of data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) Volunteer Supplement covering the period ending in September of 2011, the analysis found a positive volunteer effect on the probability of employment for persons who were not employed and volunteered for more than 20 hours per year.

For example, the employment rate for non-working persons who volunteered between 20 and 49 hours per year was 57 percent higher than the rate of non-volunteers. And controlling for personal characteristics such as age, gender and ethnicity, there was a substantial increase (6.8 percentage points) in the probability of employment for persons who volunteered between 20 and 99 hours per year.

Strikingly, many volunteers did not volunteer in the professional field in which they were seeking employment. This suggests that even without accumulating the relevant human capital for the fields in which they were seeking employment, volunteering may have signaled to prospective employers that the applicant possessed desirable qualities such as motivation, creativity and reliability. Thus, volunteering could be particularly useful for job applicants with little prior experience such as recent college graduates or persons attempting to re-enter the labor market after a period of joblessness. The data did not indicate that volunteering has a significant impact on wage growth of the typical person.

A volunteer is defined as person who performed unpaid volunteer activities over the previous 12 months through or for an association, society or group of people who share a common interest. Volunteering in an informal manner, such as helping an elderly neighbor is not included in the survey. Unpaid work, including internships for for-profit employers, is also not considered volunteer work, while some other types of unpaid internships may be included, if the person considered it volunteering rather than work.

The report, including a more robust description of who volunteers and the methodology used in the analysis can be found here.