February 7, 2002

Bob Edwards: In his State of the Union Address, President Bush appealed to Americans to demonstrate a renewed sense of volunteerism.

Bush speech (tape): “My call tonight is for every American to commit at least two years, 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime to the service of your neighbors and your Nation.”

Edwards: Commentator Paul Light says that while Americans applaud the President’s suggestion that they volunteer, many are not quite ready to take action.

Paul Light: At least on the surface, Americans appear ready to take the President’s advice to stand up to evil with acts of goodness and kindness. Almost half of Americans contributed to charity in the two weeks following the tragedies, and a quarter donated, or tried to donate blood.

Unfortunately, little of this civic enthusiasm has spilled over into volunteering. We spent more time last fall renting videos and ordering take-out food than volunteering. Although Americans are venturing out more these days, the level of volunteering has not grown substantially. Americans have the will to volunteer, but they do not have the time. We are spending more time in traffic, and more time at work, leaving less time for volunteering. It’s one thing to visit the Peace Corps website, as 17,000 visitors did the day after the President’s State of the Union Address, and it’s quite another to show up for two hours at a homeless shelter, let alone give two years to the Peace Corps. It is not clear that nonprofits could handle a dramatic increase in volunteers even if they did show up…

Listen to complete commentary (Real Player 3:07 min.)