Friday, May 2, 2014
We in South Carolina like to think of ourselves as caring and generous people – willing to give our time and money to help our fellow man. This is how we see ourselves.
As most know, it is part of our civic tradition that we lend a hand to our neighbors in times of need. Whether it was a 19th century community barn raising after a fire or, in the 20th Century, when we all pitched in to help recover and rebuild after Hurricane Hugo, volunteerism is just part of who we are.
We are fiercely proud of this tradition and we have long memories about those who don’t join in. There is a restaurant in downtown Charleston that does a booming business, but virtually none of it is locals. Folks remember that back in the worst days after Hugo, restaurants around town all pitched in, cooked what food they had on hand, and willingly shared it with whoever needed it for free. That’s the way we are.
But one downtown restaurant refused to join in and in fact jacked up their prices to make money off people’s suffering. I have never set foot in that restaurant since and most locals who were here during Hugo haven’t either. They remember.
We all know what happens in a crisis, but the question is what happens on a day-to-day basis? Do we volunteer our time in our community, give money and participate in public meetings, and such?
In short: Is the very positive view we have of ourselves true? Are we really as generous and caring as we think we are?
As with most everything these days, someone has done a study and looked at these issues and compared the 50 states bases on numerous measures. Such a recent study, called Volunteering and Civic Life in America,was done by the Corporation for National and Community Service and what they found about us in South Carolina was decidedly mixed.
Volunteers – 25% of us (or 914,410 people) volunteered for some worthy cause last year; this ranked us only 34 out of the 50 states.
Time – Each of these volunteers on average volunteered about 36.5 hours over the course of a year; that’s about equal to the standard 40-hour work week. This ranked SC 32nd nationally.
Where – The study found that 46% of South Carolina’s volunteering is for faith-based organizations compared to 34% nationally.
Value of Service – In total we volunteered about 133 million hours and this time equals about $3 billion in services contributed.
Geography – Across the board, about 25% of us in South Carolina volunteer and it’s about the same for urban, suburban and rural areas
Age – Contrary to the popular myth about engaged young people, pretty much the older you are the more likely you are to volunteer in our state. Only 32% of those 25-34 volunteer and this increases to 76% among those aged 65-74.
Money – We are indeed generous. 53.2% of us also gave money to charitable causes; this is higher than both the national average of 51% and the average for the South of 49%.
Civic Engagement – When it comes to other types of civic engagement, again, it’s mixed. Only 7.5% of us participated in a public meeting compared to 9% nationally. But when it comes to voting we do better; in the 2012 elections only 61.8% voted nationally while in SC the number was 64.7%.
The site VolunteeringinAmerica.gov has all the details and lots more data that can be analyzed from lots of different angles, but the results for us in South Carolina are clear – we do OK but not great.
In most areas we rank in the mid–30s to mid-40s compared to the other 50 states. I wish we were a lot better. Ironically the one area where we do pretty well, above the national average, is in giving money, though we are a relatively poor state.
The one thing we all have – in all 50 states in equal measure — is time, and we in South Carolina don’t do so well in giving our time.
So the next time your neighbor or community organization asks, “Can you lend a hand?” Answer back, “Sure, I’ll help and I’ll bring along a friend too.”
You’ll do some good, feel better about yourself, and make our state and country a better place.
That’s a pretty good deal for a few hours of your time.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and is President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform to our state. Email him at email@example.com.