Special Report

States Volunteering the Most (and Least)

ThinkstockPhotos-466842122Nearly 63 million Americans volunteered a total of roughly 7.7 billion hours in 2013, a contribution estimated to be worth approximately $173 billion. Despite the economic and community benefits of volunteering, the percentage of Americans who volunteer fell from its peak of 28.8% in 2005 to 25.4% in 2013.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of our nonprofits and schools and shelters and neighborhood organization, hospitals, hotlines,” said Sandy Scott, senior advisor at the Corporation for National and Community Service in an interview with 24/7 Wall St. “They provide enormous social and economic value for our country.”

Based on data from the CNCS, Utah leads the nation with 45.3% of its residents 16 and older volunteering in 2013. State residents also volunteered by far the most hours, with each volunteer contributing 85 hours in 2013 on average. Louisiana, on the other hand, had the lowest volunteer rate at just 16.7%. And each volunteer in the state contributed just 21.4 hours on average, the lowest figure nationwide.

Click here to see the states volunteering the most.

Click here to see the states volunteering the least.

The volunteer rate only accounts for formal volunteerism and may overlook other ways people help their communities, said Scott. The CNCS also looked at the proportion of state residents who did favors for a neighbor. More than 20% of residents in six of the states with the highest volunteer rates reported doing a favor for a neighbor a few times a month, higher than the national proportion of 17.7%.

Although volunteering requires the commitment of often valuable, unpaid hours, an abundance of free time among state residents does not necessarily lead to higher volunteerism rates. For example, one might expect volunteer rates to be higher among unemployed individuals, especially since volunteering dramatically increases the chances of getting hired. However, this is not the case.

“If you’re unemployed and volunteering,” Scott said, “you’re honing your job skills, you’re making contacts, you’re showing a can-do attitude, and you’re increasing your social capital, your skills and doing all the things you should be doing to help find a job.”

Yet, unemployment rates in all of the 10 states with the highest volunteerism were lower than the national rate of 7.3% in 2013. Meanwhile, unemployment rates in the 10 states with the lowest volunteerism tended to be higher than the national rate. This suggests that a stable economy, despite requiring perhaps more of the residents’ labor and time, helps promote volunteerism.

The time available to an individual still plays a role in whether a resident will volunteer. Residents in states with long average commute times were the least likely to volunteer, while residents in states with relatively low commuting times were far more likely to volunteer.

Counterintuitively, Scott observed, “The most typical volunteer is actually a working mother, which might surprise you because who’s the busiest person around? It’s a working mother.”

Volunteers work in a wide range of places, including religious organizations, schools, and civic institutions. Just over 4% of volunteers devoted most of their volunteer time at sport or art related organizations, the least popular volunteer outlet nationwide. Religious institutions, on the other hand, were the most popular, attracting more than 34% of American volunteers.

Homeownership is strongly associated with volunteering. Owning a home is usually a commitment to stay and live in the home’s location. Perhaps as a result, homeowners are more invested in their communities and tend to volunteer more. More than 65% of housing units in all but one top state for volunteering were owner-occupied, higher than the national homeownership rate of 63.5% in 2013. The opposite tended to be true in the housing markets of the states with the lowest volunteerism.

To identify the states with the highest and lowest volunteer rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percent of state residents 16 and older who volunteered with an organization in 2013 from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The survey also included state data on historical volunteer rates, where individuals volunteered primarily, the types of volunteering activities, and the volunteer retention rate. In addition, survey respondents were asked whether they did favors for neighbors, voted in local elections, had confidence in public schools, and whether they trusted their neighbor. We also looked at state educational attainment rates, poverty rates, age cohorts by state, homeownership rates, and household median income from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. The number of nonprofit organizations per 100,000 state residents also came from the U.S. Census. Annual unemployment rates are for 2013 and came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 24/7 Wall St. also considered Gallup’s 2013 well-being index.

These are the states with the highest (and lowest) volunteer rates.

The States Volunteering the Most

10. Iowa
> Volunteer rate:
33.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.4% (15th lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 56.1% (9th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.6% (6th lowest)

Approximately one in three Iowa residents volunteered in 2013, the 10th highest share compared with all states and up slightly from 32.6% in 2012. As in other states, Iowa’s volunteerism rate was lower than it was a decade ago. In 2003, the Iowa volunteer rate was 39.9%, fourth highest at that time. Residents of the Hawkeye State volunteered an average of 35 hours over the course of 2013, down from a high of 47.8 hours in 2004 but still one of the higher figures nationwide. Like volunteers across the country and in most states, Iowans pitched in the most at religious organizations, with 37% devoting most of their volunteer time at faith-based organizations. By contrast, 7.3% of Iowans volunteered at civic groups. Iowans also put their backs into volunteerism: about 28% of their volunteer activity was classified as general labor, including physical labor, second only to Wyoming in such volunteer work.

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9. Montana
> Volunteer rate:
33.1%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.0% (21st highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 69.7% (4th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.6% (14th lowest)

Montana residents are public-minded. Not only did they have the fourth highest voter participation rate in local elections, but they also had the ninth highest volunteer rate in the country at 33.1% in 2013. More than 23% of Montana volunteers put in most of their volunteer time in schools. While this was one of the lower rates in the nation, it was the most popular form of volunteering among Montana residents. About 35% of Montana residents had a great deal of confidence in the state’s public schools, the 12th highest such rate nationwide. This may partly explain the tendency of state volunteers to dedicate their time to schools. Montana also had the ninth highest share of volunteering at health facilities and the third highest share of volunteering at social service facilities. The state’s volunteer rate rose from 29.0% in 2012 to 33.1% in 2013, the largest percentage point increase in the country.

8. Vermont
> Volunteer rate:
33.2%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35.7% (7th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 67.9% (7th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.4% (4th lowest)

In addition to a high volunteer rate, which captures only formal volunteering activities, Vermont residents were also some of the most likely Americans to help their neighbors — 4.6% reported doing a favor basically every day. Vermont not only had one of the highest voting rates, but it also ranked first in the percentage of volunteers who primarily volunteered at civic organizations, at 9.8%. It ranked last, however, in the percentage of volunteers who primarily volunteered at religious institutions, at 16.1%. Instead, Vermonters were far more likely to volunteer at schools with 26.8% of residents doing so in 2013, the 14th highest such share nationwide. Vermont residents tend to be older with a median age of 42.5 years in 2013, second highest in the country. While more free time does not guarantee a higher volunteer rate, it may have had an impact in Vermont. For example, nearly 37% of Vermonters aged 55-64 volunteered versus 28.3% of Americans in that age cohort.

7. Washington
> Volunteer rate:
33.4%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.7% (11th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 64.7% (17th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.0% (23rd highest)

More than 40% of 55-64 year old Washington residents were volunteers, second only to Utah and well above the U.S. median proportion of 28.3% for that age cohort. About 26.5% of the Evergreen State’s volunteers primarily served at faith-based organizations, one of the lower rates in the nation but still the most popular form of volunteerism in the state. While Washington residents are among the most likely to volunteer, the volunteer rate slipped to 33.4% in 2013 from 36.1% in 2012. As in most states, the rate is down even further from 2003, when the rate was 37.1%. Homeownership is strongly associated with volunteerism. However, Washington was the only state with a high volunteer rate where the homeownership rate did not exceed the national rate of 63.5%. In addition, while a relatively high volume of nonprofit organizations were present in top volunteer states, there were very few such organizations in Washington at 181 nonprofits per 100,000 Washington residents.

6. South Dakota
> Volunteer rate:
34.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.6% (17th lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 60.3% (19th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.8% (2nd lowest)

South Dakota‘s volunteer rate increased by 0.8 percentage points from 2012 to 2013. It was one of only three states among the 10 with the highest volunteerism rates where the rate had increased. Like most states in the country, though, South Dakota’s 2013 volunteer rate was far below its 39.8% peak in 2003. As in most states, religious institutions attracted a large proportion of volunteers in South Dakota. Nearly 40% of volunteers spent most of their volunteer time at religious institutions, 12th highest of all states. Like in other states, volunteering in South Dakota likely promoted solidarity within local communities. More than 30% of state residents trusted all of the people in their neighborhood, the highest proportion nationwide. According to a recent Gallup study, South Dakota residents also had the third-highest well-being nationwide in 2013.

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4. Idaho
> Volunteer rate:
34.9%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.2% (13th lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 61.6% (25th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.2% (15th lowest)

Idaho ranked second for volunteer hours per resident at an average of 52.8 hours over the course of 2013. The share of Idaho volunteers who primarily worked at religious institutions was 42.5%, sixth highest in the country. Much of the volunteering in the state involved mentoring and teaching youth. More than 30% and 22.6% of all volunteering activities were tutoring or mentoring, respectively, both the second-highest such rates nationwide. At the other end of the scale, Gem State residents were next to last compared to other states in volunteer fundraising work. As in other top-volunteering states, Idaho residents continue to volunteer year after year, with 70.7% of state volunteers in 2012 returning to volunteer again in 2013, the ninth highest retention rate nationwide. Yet, Idaho’s 2013 volunteer rate dropped 0.6 percentage points from 2012 and is 3.9 percentage points lower from the 2011 peak of 38.8%.

4. Minnesota
> Volunteer rate:
34.9%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 33.5% (10th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 66.1% (13th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.1% (9th lowest)

Minnesota leads the nation in the volunteer rate of its oldest residents with 36.5% of Minnesotans aged 75 and older volunteering. Not only do the oldest Minnesota residents volunteer at a prodigious rate, but also the volunteer rate of those 65 to 74 was 41.1%, third highest in the country behind only Utah and Idaho. Minnesota’s overall volunteer rate peaked in 2004 at 41.1% but has declined since. Minnesotans perform most of their volunteer work at religious institutions and ranked eighth highest in the country in the volunteer work at social service agencies. Like a majority of top volunteer states, Minnesota’s homeownership rate of 71.6% was one of the highest in the nation. In addition, there were 262 nonprofit businesses per 100,000 state residents, the 10th highest such frequency in the country. Nonprofits frequently offer volunteer opportunities and the high prevalence of such businesses likely helped increase the state’s volunteer rate.

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3. Kansas
> Volunteer rate:
35.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31.1% (16th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 55.4% (7th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.4% (11th lowest)

Kansas’ volunteer rate fell two percentage points from 2012 to 2013, dropping the state from second to third place in the national rankings. Kansas ranked sixth in the country in volunteer time spent collecting and distributing clothing and ninth in the country in volunteering professional and management skills. It also ranked first in the country in volunteer activity by younger people with 40.9% of Kansans aged 16-19 volunteering. The percentage of Jayhawk State residents aged 35-44 who volunteered was 43.9%, second highest in the country for that age cohort. At the other end of the age spectrum, 34.0% of Kansans who were 75 or older volunteered, the fourth highest percentage in the country for that age group. There were also 253 nonprofits per 100,000 people that year, one of the highest figures in the country. The strong presence of nonprofit organizations likely helped promote volunteerism.

2. Wisconsin
> Volunteer rate:
35.5%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27.7% (24th lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 66.6% (11th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.7% (23rd lowest)

The percentage of Wisconsin residents who volunteered dipped slightly from 35.9% in 2012 to 35.5% in 2013. Nonetheless, Wisconsin vaulted from sixth place in the national rankings to second. The percentage of Wisconsin residents volunteering peaked in 2005 at 38.7%. About 29% of Wisconsin residents aged 20-24 volunteered, the second highest percentage of all states for that age bracket. In addition to volunteering, 15.7% of Wisconsin residents said they do favors for neighbors once a month, the second highest percentage of all states. Homeownership is strongly associated with volunteering, and more than two-thirds of housing units in Wisconsin were owned by their occupants, one of the higher rates nationwide.

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1. Utah
> Volunteer rate:
45.3%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31.3% (14th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 58.8% (16th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.4% (4th lowest)

No state had a higher volunteer rate than Utah where the volunteer rate was almost 10 percentage points higher than the second ranking state. On average, every Utah resident spent just over 75 hours a year volunteering, far higher than in any other state. In a state in which 62% of the residents were Mormon in 2012, it’s not surprising that 65% of volunteers chose religious organizations as their primary volunteer outlets. Mormons are perhaps more likely to volunteer than even members of other religions, as volunteering is actually required for members of the Church. The high percentage of faith-based volunteering was far more than the state with the second highest share of similar volunteering, Mississippi, where just under 50% of volunteering was at religious organizations. In keeping with their charitable nature, about 5.6% of Utah residents said they do a favor for a neighbor at least once a day, and another 28.5% reported helping a neighbor a few times a month, both the highest in the country.

Click here to see the states volunteering the least.

The States Volunteering the Least

10. New Mexico
> Volunteer rate:
23.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.4% (15th lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 64.1% (20th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.9% (24th highest)

Fewer than one of every four New Mexico residents, or 23.0%, volunteered their time in 2013, down from 27.8% in 2012. As a result, the state dropped in the national ranking to 10th lowest volunteer rate in the country. The state’s volunteer rate in 2013 was just barely above its low of 22.8% in 2009 but sharply down from its peak of 31.3% in 2004. Nearly 36% of New Mexico’s volunteers chose faith-based organizations as their primary volunteer venues. This proportion was higher than for any other volunteer location in the state, and also one of the higher such rates nationwide. Several cities in the state are considered top retirement destinations and 32% of residents aged 65 to 74 volunteer, among the top 20 such shares. In addition to their limited volunteerism, about 49% of all New Mexico residents do not perform any favors for their neighbors, the highest such percentage in the nation.

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10. Rhode Island
> Volunteer rate:
23.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.4% (12th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 64.2% (19th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.5% (2nd highest)

Even though it has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, Rhode Island residents do not necessarily use their idle time to volunteer. The state is tied for the 10th lowest volunteer rate of all states. The 23.0% of Rhode Island residents who volunteered in 2013 was down slightly from 23.5% in 2012. About 29.0% of Ocean State volunteers worked at education organizations primarily, a higher percentage than any other volunteer location. The high volunteer rate at education organizations may have been due to residents’ low opinion of the state’s school system. Just under 26% of Rhode Islanders said they have a great deal of confidence in the state’s public schools, the 11th lowest percentage of any state’s residents. Overall, Rhode Island residents volunteered an average of 23.9 hours in 2013, the third lowest average of residents of any state.

9. Hawaii
> Volunteer rate:
21.6%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31.2% (15th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 61.1% (22nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.8% (8th lowest)

Hawaii’s relatively low 21.6% volunteer rate masks the helpful, friendly nature of islands’ residents. According to Census data, even though their volunteer rate was relatively low, 4.3% of Hawaiians reported doing a favor for a neighbor almost every day, the fourth highest percentage in the country. More than 28% of Hawaiian volunteers devoted their time primarily at religious organizations, more than at any other location, but still lower than the nationwide proportion. Also, 7.9% of volunteers spend most of their volunteer time with each of civic and sports organizations, both some of the highest percentages compared to other states. Hawaii ranked near last in the nation in the volunteer rate in the 20-24, 35-44, 55-64 and 75 and older age cohorts.

8. West Virginia
> Volunteer rate:
21.2%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 18.9% (the lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 57.5% (14th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.5% (18th lowest)

Even though West Virginia had the third lowest median household income in the country, state residents spent the largest chunk of their volunteer time fundraising. According to survey data, West Virginia volunteers used 28.7% of their time raising funds from friends, neighbors, and relatives. They spent another 26% of their time collecting and distributing food. While Mountain State residents do not volunteer much, 5.6% of them reported doing a favor for a neighbor daily, the second highest percentage behind only Utah. West Virginia, according to the survey, appears to be a friendly, family-oriented state: almost half of those surveyed, 49.6%, reported seeing or hearing from family or friends daily, fifth highest in that category. West Virginia was one of only 13 states where the volunteer rate rose from 2012 to 2013 and one of only two states with the lowest volunteer rates to experience a year-on-year increase. Still, the state’s 21.2% volunteer rate was the second-lowest since the surveys began in 2002.

7. South Carolina
> Volunteer rate:
21.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.1% (12th lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 58.7% (15th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.6% (16th highest)

As in most states with low volunteer rates, South Carolina volunteers were also among the least likely Americans to volunteer again the following year. Less than 54% of state residents who volunteered in 2012 volunteered again in 2013, the third lowest retention rate nationwide. While South Carolina residents were far less likely to volunteer than most Americans, 43.7% of those who did volunteered primarily for religious organizations, the fifth highest such rate. According to a recent Gallup poll, 52.5% of state residents said religion was an important part of their lives, and respondents said they attend church services at least once a week, one of the highest rate nationwide. State volunteers were among the least likely to volunteer in educational outlets, with less than 20% of volunteers devoting their volunteer time primarily to schools in 2013.

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6. New Jersey
> Volunteer rate:
20.6%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 36.6% (5th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 63.5% (22nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.2% (10th highest)

A high prevalence of nonprofits, which generally offer volunteer opportunities, often helps raise volunteer rates. In New Jersey, however, there were fewer than 150 nonprofit organizations per 100,000 residents, one of the lowest proportions nationwide. The volunteer rate for 25-34 year old state residents was less than 16%, nearly the lowest share compared to other states and the least likely age cohort to volunteer in the state. While New Jersey had among the lowest volunteer rates nationwide, nearly 11% of volunteers spent most of their volunteer time on health related projects, the highest such rate in the country. Unlike most states with the lowest volunteerism rates, New Jersey residents were relatively well educated. Nearly 37% had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013, the fifth highest rate nationwide.

5. Arkansas
> Volunteer rate:
19.5%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 20.6% (3rd lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 49.1% (3rd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.5% (18th highest)

The number of volunteer hours per person in Arkansas was 23.6 in 2013, second lowest of any state. Fewer than one in five Arkansas residents, 19.5%, said they volunteered in 2013, down slightly from 2012 when the state’s volunteer rate was 21.0%. The state’s residents volunteered at religious institutions more than at any other type of nonprofit. Arkansas is one of the poorest states in the country with almost 20% of its residents living below the poverty line, a rate exceeded by only three states. The state also had the second lowest median household income, but only Mississippi had a lower cost of living. In addition to not engaging in much formal volunteer activity at established nonprofits, just over 57% of Arkansas residents acknowledged doing a favor for a neighbor less than once a month or not at all. Arkansas residents have nearly the worst voter participation rate in local elections. Not surprisingly, therefore, only about 5.5% of volunteers participated the most in civic affairs, lower than the national rate of 5.95%.

5. Nevada
> Volunteer rate:
19.5%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 22.5% (5th lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 53.8% (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.8% (the highest)

In 2003, Nevada had the lowest volunteer rate in the country at 21.2%. A decade later, less than 20% of state residents volunteered their time, tied for the fifth lowest volunteer rate nationwide. At just 78 per 100,000 residents, Nevada had the fewest nonprofits in the country as of 2012, which may have limited residents’ volunteer opportunities. Additionally, the high violent crime rate may have made people less inclined to volunteer. More than 591 violent crimes per 100,000 residents were reported in 2013, the third highest rate in the country. High crime rates may have also contributed to only 11% of survey respondents saying that they trust all of their neighbors, one of the lowest rates nationwide.

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3. Florida
> Volunteer rate:
19.3%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27.2% (21st lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 51.0% (4th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.2% (21st highest)

Even though Florida had the third lowest volunteer rate, the value of its volunteers’ time was $9.87 billion in 2013, third highest of all states. This is likely the result of Florida being one of the most populous states. Florida’s older population — 65-plus — had some of the lowest volunteer rates in the nation and is the least likely to volunteer of any age group in the state. Florida’s volunteer rate may have been held down by its aging population — 18.1% of Florida’s population was older than 65 in 2013, up from 17.3% in 2010. Elderly residents in Florida made up a far larger share of the population than in other states. Additionally, less than 55% of Florida residents who volunteered in 2012 returned to volunteer again in 2013, nearly the worst volunteer retention rate nationwide. Also consistent perhaps with the older Florida population, the state ranks sixth in the country for volunteering at nonprofit health organizations.

2. New York
> Volunteer rate:
18.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.1% (9th highest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 61.5% (25th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.7% (15th highest)

As one of the nation’s most populous states New York had one of the highest numbers of volunteers as well as one of the highest estimated dollar value of volunteerism — more than $9 billion in 2013, the fourth highest. However, New York residents were some of the least likely Americans to volunteer, with just 18.8% of residents volunteering in 2013. Educational organizations were the most commonly selected primary volunteer outlets, with 26.4% of volunteers in the state devoting most of their time to work in schools. At least some of these volunteers were raising money for schools, as more than 30% of volunteer activities were classified as fundraising efforts — also the second highest such proportion nationwide. More than 7% of New Yorkers said they had no confidence in public schools, 13th highest in the country, which may have further encouraged volunteerism at educational organizations.

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1. Louisiana
> Volunteer rate:
16.7%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 22.5% (5th lowest)
> Pct. voting often or sometimes in local elections: 76.4% (the highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.2% (15th lowest)

The formal volunteer rate in Louisiana — through established organizations — plunged after Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. The volunteer rate was 22.6% in 2005 but fell to 18.6% one year later as residents were preoccupied with cleaning up and rebuilding their own lives and likely engaged in informal efforts helping neighbors. The rate popped back up in 2007 before falling again to 2013’s record low. The number of volunteer hours per person was 21.4 in 2013, which amounted to less than half an hour per week per year per state resident, lowest in the country. Nearly 42% of Pelican State volunteers spent the largest share of their volunteer time helping out at religious institutions. Also 32.0% of volunteers pitched in primarily at educational institutions, fourth highest compared to other states.

Click here to see the states volunteering the most.

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