NCOC Featured Discussion

Mandatory service for the unemployed? Discuss.

December 15, 2011
A recent, hotly debated proposed law in Georgia would require out-of-work residents to perform at least 24 hours of community service with a nonprofit in order to receive unemployment benefits. Senator John Albers has said the the “Dignity for the Unemployed Act” is meant to “encourage good stewardship of state resources," among other benefits.

Supporters of the Act say the volunteer activities are important to build the morale, skills, and networks of job seekers. Additional volunteers can also supplement gaps in support felt by nonprofits. “When you're helping our citizens serve other people and serve charities, only good can come of it,” Senator Albers told CNN.

Opponents say the unemployed can’t afford the time away from their job search, and the required transportation costs could add undue financial stress. "I do charity work," Joyce Wilson told CBS Atlanta. "I don't need anyone to tell me to do it and if they are going to make it mandatory, they need to give me a little something for my gas.”

CBS Atlanta asked job seekers how they felt about the proposed bill. One job seeker who supported the measure, Arnie Isaacson, commented "If you are unemployed, 24 hours is nothing - you have 80 hours just sitting around. If it helps the state, if it helps the system, we all need to chip in. These are very difficult times." Another job seeker, Kezia Holston, seemed unsure, saying "community service is a good thing, but I don't know if it is the right thing at the time."

Georgia is currently experiencing unemployment rates above the national average (10.2% statewide vs. 9.0% nationally in October). This is an ongoing trend for the state-- Georgia has surpassed the national unemployment rate for 51 consecutive months.

Civic health research found that Georgia is one of the bottom-ranked locations when it comes to volunteering; it is ranked 41st out of 50 states with a rate of 23.9% (national average is 26.5%).

NCoC research has suggested a connection between civic engagement rates and a community’s unemployment levels. A 2011 issue brief, “Civic Health and Unemployment: Can Engagement Strengthen the Economy?” found that areas with high civic health had experienced a smaller overall growth in unemployment. While these preliminary findings are encouraging, NCoC plans to explore the data and this connection further.


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Are bills such as this a win-win for the unemployed, nonprofits, and communities writ large? Or is it an unfair mandate on citizens already experiencing great personal challenges?
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11 Comments
By Jayne Cravens at 11:54 AM on Dec 15th, 2011
Did the people pushing this idea talk to nonprofits and government programs that involve volunteers and ask if they could involve an influx of new volunteers, putting at least one person to work for 24 hours a week?

No.

Do the people pushing this plan know how much staff time and resources are required for a program or agency to involve volunteers, that volunteers are never free - and, therefore, will the government be providing funding to nonprofits and other organizations in order to fund the staff time and resources to involve volunteers in such large blocks of time each week?

No.

Did the people pushing this plan do any research on how difficult it is for people who want to volunteer to find opportunities, that people report applying for multiple assignments on web sites like VolunteerMatch, over a period of weeks , sometimes over a period of months, before they ever actually end up volunteering?

No.

I'm all for people who are unemployed looking into volunteering as a way to build their skills for employment, as a way to make contacts that might lead to employment, as a way to get some accomplishments under their belt that would look great on their résumé, and as a way to counter the negative emotional pressures of unemployment.

But finding volunteering activities is hard. VERY hard. Much of my web site has been primarily focused on the organizations that involve volunteers, but I had to create pages focused on people who want to volunteer because of the OVERWHELMING number of people that post again and again to places like YahooAnswers, people who are trying to find volunteering activities and cannot find such.

Why do I get hired again and again to do training on how to involve volunteers? Why does Susan Ellis keep writing and selling so many books on volunteer engagement? Because thousands and thousands of nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), schools, government programs and many others do not know how to involve volunteers.

So, reality check, John Albers and others pushing this: If you want organizations to involve more volunteers - and to involve volunteers in such huge chunks of time (24 hours a week - three full work days a week!), then start looking for money to give to these organizations - they will need it to fund the time (and perhaps even the training) of a full-time manager of volunteers who will screen, train, support and supervise all these thousands of volunteers you want to send their way.

(This is adapted from a blog I wrote on this subject, here: http://coyoteblog.posterous.com/requiring-jobless-to-volunteer-reality-check)
By NCoC staff at 4:31 PM on Dec 15th, 2011
In an attempt to aggregate some of the feedback we're hearing on this legislation, the following represent some comments submitted on Facebook and Twitter:

-- "What a great idea!"

-- "For God's sake, trying to find work is a freaking full time job as it is. No one is getting rich on unemployment checks."

--"No way. It's not the fault of the worker that they are unemployed. I think it should be encouraged and there should be a vehicle to make volunteering easy and accessible, but not mandatory. It's like a double smack in the face to folks who have done nothing wrong in the first place." With a follow-up comment that said "Completely agree ... talk about class warfare."

-- "We can't have a full-fledged public works program, so we make volunteering punitive? Why not have a public works program and let those job seekers continue working on finding private sector jobs?"

-- "It would be nice if the "service" opportunities could be aligned with the career aspirations of the individuals."

-- "This is not a good idea. Making people spend time away from the job hunt or doing something entrepreneurial and making them spend money to get to these "volunteer" opportunities is not going to help the unemployed. Who develops any marketable skill doing 24 hours of forced volunteering? What this is, is a great way for the state to renege on it's obligations to its citizens under the guise of helping them."

-- "Every person that I know that is on unemployment is not looking for a job because (and I quote) "why would I look for a job when I get a check from the government every month for NOT working." I hate to say it, but unemployment benefits is one of the most taken advantage of government entitlements there is."

--"It sounds perfectly logical to pair up people getting unemployment checks with vocation based volunteer work if they are unable to secure work after trying for 3 months."

Interesting, important, and diverse opinions. Keep 'em coming.
By Shelley at 12:22 AM on Dec 16th, 2011
Forced volunteering is conscription. This is lunacy.
By at 11:39 AM on Dec 16th, 2011
Please further define exactly what the mandatory service might entail. This sounds like a desperate attempt to justify taking advantage of the unemployed by having them perform tasks without regard to their circumstance. Some prisons employ inmates to road cleaning and other tasks for mandatory service. Expanding mandatory service to include the unemployed amplifies class distinction and separation between the have and have nots. Most unemployed would prefer being employed. The question, mandatory service for the unemployed? Should ask, where are the jobs the 1% have been providing since they gained tax breaks?
By Kristen Cambell at 2:32 PM on Dec 16th, 2011
Thanks for the clarification question. The text of the prefiled bill is available at http://www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/2011_12/sum/sb294.htm Here is the paragraph specifically related to the volunteer hours: "The individual has performed at least 24 hours of volunteer service per week for a nonprofit charitable organization which is qualified as exempt from taxation under the provisions of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. Such organization and service shall be in accordance with any regulations prescribed by the Commissioner. This paragraph shall not apply to the first two weeks of eligibility. The Commissioner may, by regulation, waive or alter the requirements of this paragraph for cases or situations in which the Commissioner finds that compliance with the requirements would be oppressive or inconsistent with the purposes of this chapter."
By jalsx at 10:14 PM on Dec 21st, 2011
I look forward to filing a federal class action lawsuit against the state of Georgia should this bill pass...Georgia will end up spending more tax money defending another lawsuit for a stupid law that they could have avoided.
By henry v gonzalez at 6:59 PM on Jan 29th, 2012
no comment
By at 11:29 AM on Oct 30th, 2012
Everyone's situation is different!! And one bad apple shouldn't spoil the bunch!! Just because one person does wrong it does not mean everyone does!!!!
By Jeslyn at 12:14 PM on Nov 23rd, 2012
I'm really into it, thnkas for this great stuff!
By vincent robinson at 2:30 PM on May 30th, 2013
I need help33
By at 10:19 AM on Jun 18th, 2013
I have nothing to say.
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