Will the Millennials Join the Peace Corps?

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The Associated Press reports that in a new survey young kids are more serious about giving back than their parents were (that means you!).

In fact, those under age 30 now are more likely to say citizens have a “very important obligation” to volunteer, an Associated Press poll finds.

The embrace of volunteering is striking because young people’s commitment to other civic duties – such as voting, serving on a jury and staying informed – has dropped sharply from their parents’ generation and is lower than that of Americans overall.

Among six civic activities in the AP poll, volunteering is the only one that adults under 30 rated as highly as older people did.

Today’s young adults grew up amid nudges from a volunteering infrastructure that has grown exponentially since their parents’ day, when the message typically came through churches or scouting.

In the decades since President George H.W. Bush championed America’s volunteer groups as “a thousand points of light” at his 1989 inaugural, the number of nonprofits has skyrocketed. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and Sept. 11 have become days of service. Individuals launch community projects through social media, instead of hanging posters and making phone calls.

Twenty percent of adults under 30 volunteered in 2013, up from 14 percent in 1989, according to census data analyzed by the Corporation for National and Community Service. It seems likely that the millennials’ volunteering rate will climb higher, because past generations have peaked in their 30s and 40s, when many parents give their time to schools, youth groups or community improvements.

“We’re on the crux of something big, because these millennials are going to take this spirit of giving and wanting to change communities, and they’re going to become parents soon,” said Wendy Spencer, chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “I am very encouraged by what we’re seeing.”

The vast majority of Americans believe citizenship comes with an array of responsibilities. But the strength of that conviction has weakened since the General Social Survey asked about obligations of citizenship in 1984.

But will they join the Peace Corps? The Associated Press didn’t bother to ask that question.

What do you think?

15 Comments

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  • People under 30 are for many of us, grandchildren.
    Don’t see Peace Corps as a destination for millennial volunteering. Yes, church groups, and more importantly, high school transcript building so ‘service’ looks good to elite college admissions officers.
    So much of our lives have been ‘monetized’ since JFK that it’s hard to see any significant spike in applications. A weekend at the Foodbank or Habitat is one thing; two years out in a now’dangerous’ world where people don’t much like Americans anymore is a whole other thing.

  • I agree with Don. “Service learning” is a relatively new focus in middle and high schools, as is the idea of service. But, it a short time event. I think that there is a danger that it tends to “objectify” the recipient of “service. The focus is on the person doing the service, not the person or communities in need.

    I would hope that the Peace Corps,already drowning in data gathering, might consider polling college students on why they would not join the Peace Corps. The application process improvement are good, but that is just the beginning.

  • Very interesting. Sorta agree with Don and Joanne. But we all know that we also used the Peace Corps to figure out what and where about graduate school.

    But if the Peace Corps would step out of the shadows more often, be seen for the transformative experience that it is, I think these kids would take notice. Yes, the world isn’t the same, my own Nigeria has fallen apart. But here is my motto for the Peace Corps:

    “Peace Corps: the challenge, the commitment, the service, the learning, the new skills, the adventure, the transformation of lives — it all lives on.”

  • James Fallows has an excellent article in the Atlantic, entitled:
    “Tragedy of the American Military.” To read it, copy and paste the URL http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/12/the-tragedy-of-the-american-military/383516/

    Fallows argues the disconnect between the average American and our military results in a “chicken hawk nation.” One interesting fact that does relate to this discussion is that last year, 300,000 American students studied abroad. Peace Corps is celebrating that it had “almost” 18,000 applications. Fallows does not mention the Peace Corps. Nor should he, it is advertised as one more option for a “gap year or two.” The focus on “gap.”

    I believed every single word of Kennedy’s Inaugural address. I think that what Peace Corps Volunteers did then was important. I think that what Volunteers do now is important. I think that records of that work should have been constantly documented, analyzed, and preserved and be made available to the public and to the political appointees who are somehow defining Peace Corps.

    I think if a politician or a journalist or an average American had been able to walk into a Peace Corps library and read thousands accounts of “community development” and what worked and what, so often, did not, no one would have believed the nonsense about “nation building” and “liberating Iraq” and “implanting democracy.”

    If enough nurses had walked into a Peace Corps library and read the countless accounts of small pox eradication campaigns and had noted, with alarm, that the needles being used where not sterilized, they could have gone running madly to public health experts and screamed, those needles can become vectors for blood borne diseases. “Do something.” Why didn’t Peace Corps nurses say something? But, they did. Nobody paid that much attention, and evidently nobody wrote it down, and what was written down, was not really read. If it had been in the sixties, would HIV/AIDs been such a firestorm in the eighties? I don’t know.

    It doesn’t matter, now. There is no Peace Corps library. There is no real record of work done. So little has been learned from fifty years of non-military work, by over 200,000 Volunteers.

  • James Fallows has an excellent article in the Atlantic, entitled:
    “Tragedy of the American Military.” I read it online. He was also interviewed on NPR.
    I googled him to and got both.
    Fallows argues the disconnect between the average American and our military results in a “chicken hawk nation.” One interesting fact that does relate to this discussion is that last year, 300,000 American students studied abroad. Peace Corps had less 7000 Volunteers in the field at the end of FY 2014. Fallows does not mention the Peace Corps. Nor should he, it is advertised as one more option for a “gap year or two.” The focus on “gap.”

    I believed every single word of Kennedy’s Inaugural address. I think that what Peace Corps Volunteers did then was important. I think that what Volunteers do now is important. I think that records of that work should have been constantly documented, analyzed, and preserved and been made available to the public and to the political appointees who are somehow defining Peace Corps.

    I think if a politician or a journalist or an average American had been able to walk into a Peace Corps library and read thousands accounts of “community development” and what worked and what, so often, did not, no one would have believed the nonsense about “nation building” and “liberating Iraq” and “implanting democracy.”

    It doesn’t matter, now. There is no Peace Corps library. There is no real record of work done. So little has been learned from fifty years of non-military work, by over 200,000 Volunteers.

  • Joanne Roll is on the mark when she says “There is no real record of work done. So little has been learned from fifty years of non-military work, by over 200,000 Volunteers.” However, gathering the information is just Phase 1.

    Phase 2 is analysis and Phase 3 should be in the hands of Aaron Sorkin and his colleagues. One year later AP reporters will be hunting for stories.

  • The “disconnect” between foreign policy decision-making and factual data which challenges or contradicts policy makers’ assumptions and assertions is not new. For example, there was plenty of evidence from Bernard Fall and others which U.S. policy makers ignored in choosing to significantly expand U.S. military assistance to South Vietnam in the mid-60s.

    Regardless, Joanne and Ronald are right in looking for ways to utilize the increasing body of literature deriving from Peace Corps Volunteer experience to inform policy makers, think tanks, academics, the media, and the public. Peace Corps represents a genre of literature worthy of serious study and analysis in its own right–and not just a form of travelogue literature (which it also is). The war literature relating to Vietnam continues to grow, challenging the breadth of U.S. Civil War literature. So, who teaches PC lit nationally? Let’s build a PC library!

  • I also, as a high school senior, believed Kennedy’s Inaugural and call to action. It’s not possible for me to view any Bushes or Clintons or even Obama as capable of igniting that kind of idealistic, service directed movement. They would focus group it to death and by the time such ideas were scrutinized for their political consequences there would be little left. If, after all, so many have come to believe that ‘guv’mnt’ is the problem, not the solution, the pool for prospective volunteers has shrunk once again.

  • I was glad to see Robert correct the earlier assertions that there is “no real record of work done”. While it may not be formal, or formally catalogued in any way, the written record from PCVs and RPCVs is about as real and raw as it gets. In addtion to the dense forest of published literature, fiction and non-fiction both, there’s a huge body of “real-time” record keeping happening every day through Volunteer blogs. What remains is the work of studying it, learning from it, and implementing those lessons. Step right up, policymakers.

  • I want to challenge your statement, Ben. Let me clarify, a real record would be organized chronologically and would be as complete as possible and would reflect real time projects. That does not exist. So research is not possible., and history as reported, is fragmented.

    The records that do exist and I absolutely agree that PCVs and RPCVs have done the work of reporting their own real time record. However those accounts are scattered all over the country. There is no chronology of those records by country or by program. There is no way of knowing how complete they are.

    When Peace Corps dissembled its in-house library in 1999, many records were simply “scheduled” to be destroyed after a certain period of storage. Peace Corps did not even have a record of what was to be destroyed and what was to be archived, or what was originally housed in the library.

    The Performance and Accountability Report that Peace Corps published for FY2014, talks about evaluating “Development Impact, but “more data is needed.” (See: Page 55 of PAR)

  • I’d love to see our congressional paymasters fund the organized research you describe, Joanne! Budget dust compared to the expensive mistakes made from failing to review the simple lessons of Peace Corps service.

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