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Monday, February 8, 2016

NATIONAL SERVICE INITIATIVE: Put Real 'Skin in the Game'


In the last post on this Blog, I attempted to start a discussion about one particular aspect of being a citizen: that as such one must put some ‘skin in the game.’  We talked a bit about the meaning of that phrase and came to the conclusion that its origin may have been in the world of finance, and may have been mostly used to indicate the commitment of an inside executive of a company.  In other words, if that inside executive used some of his or her own money to purchase company stock, he or she would be known as having ‘skin in the game.’  Taking that concept to a broader definition, we applied some key elements to the phrase ‘skin in the game’ as it might apply to a societal (political) movement, and came up with a few like:

v voluntary contribution
v investing directly with some self-risk
v a charitable or selfless motivation

v a sense of obligation

At this point, it probably makes sense to ask: how are we doing as citizens and as a leading democratic society in the area of meeting our obligations as citizens?  How much are we investing ourselves in activities and organizations that promote a service to others? And, how are we doing in terms of our overall commitment to national and community service?  I’ve picked out a few general categories by which to measure ourselves: Contributions to political campaigns, Voting, Charitable works, and Volunteerism.  Let’s have a look:

CONTRIBUTIONS to Political Campaigns:
The Nation.com reports somewhat shocking statistics related to the effects of the SCOTUS Citizens United decision:
§  Only 26,783 Americans donated more than $10,000 to federal campaigns in 2010—or, about one in 10,000 Americans. Their donations accounted for 24.3 percent of total campaign donations. [Sunlight Foundation]
§  Average donation from that elite group was $28,913. (The median individual income in America is $26,364) [Sunlight Foundation].  Amount the Karl Rove–led Crossroads GPS claimed it would spend on the 2012 elections: $240 million. [On the Media]
§  A shocking 72 percent of political advertising by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006. [Committee for Economic Development]
§  In 2004, 97.9 percent of outside groups disclosed their donors. In 2010, 34.0 percent did. [Committee for Economic Development]
§  In 2012, totals in all elections included 2,354,232 individual contributions totaling $610,515,819. 
§  In 2014, there were 3,103,280 contributions totaling $1,124,379,388 (Followthemoney.org). 
§  Out of the total number of eligible voters, that would mean that in 2012, less than 11% actually made a campaign contribution, and probably less than that since some of those 2.3 million donors probably gave more than once.

VOTING Statistics (from Statistic Brain Research Institute)

Total number of Americans eligible to vote                                                   218,959,000
Total number of Americans registered to vote                                             146,311,000
Total number Americans voted in 2012 Presidential election                   126,144,000

Percent of Americans who voted in the 2012 Presidential election        57.5 %

[Want more Voter Registration by Demographic stats.? – see http://www.statisticbrain.com/voting-statistics/]

Top Reasons Cited for Not Voting  
Too busy conflicting schedule                17.5
Illness or disability                                    14.9
Not interested                                           13.4
Did not like candidates or issues            12.9
Out of town                                                  8.8
Don’t know                                                   7.0
Registration problems                                6.0
Inconvenient polling place                         2.7
Transportation problems                           2.6

CHARITABLE ACTIVITY:
Giving by individuals makes up the vast majority of contributions received by nonprofit organizations. Giving USA 2015 estimates that individual giving amounted to $258.51 billion in 2014, an increase of 7.1 percent in current dollars from 2013. This accounts for 72 percent of all contributions received in 2014. 

 For More Details:
Source: Giving USA 2015: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2014 (Chicago: Giving USA Foundation, 2015), p. 26.

VOLUNTEERING:

 Table A.  Volunteers by selected characteristics, September 2012 through September 2014

(Numbers in thousands)                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                   September 2012        September 2013        September 2014  
                                                                                                                                              

                                                                                                                                                     

                                            Number     Percent    Number   Percent   Number   Percent  

                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                                     
Total both sexes.......................   64,513       26.5     62,615       25.4      62,757       25.3  

Men....................................   27,238       23.2     26,404       22.2      26,375       22.0 

Women .................................   37,274       29.5     36,211       28.4      36,381       28.3 

                                                                                                                                                      

Age                                                                       

                                                                                                                                                      
Total, 16 years and over................   64,513       26.5     62,615       25.4     62,757       25.3 

16 to 24 years                             8,776       22.6      8,466       21.8      8,469       21.9 

25 to 34 years.........................    9,513       23.2      9,118       21.9      9,291       22.0 

35 to 44 years.........................   12,527       31.6     12,098       30.6     11,783       29.8 

45 to 54 years.........................   12,777       29.3     12,184       28.2     12,204       28.5 

55 to 64 years.........................   10,619       27.6     10,191       26.0     10,331       25.9 

65 years and over......................   10,301       24.4     10,558       24.1     10,679       23.6 

                                                                                                                                                     

Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity                                    

                                                                                                                                                     

White...................................   53,778       27.8     52,685       27.1     52,201       26.7 

Black or African American...............    6,316       21.1      5,637       18.5      6,094       19.7 

Asian...................................    2,524       19.6      2,525       19.0      2,513       18.2 

Hispanic or Latino ethnicity............    5,635       15.2      5,838       15.5      5,982       15.5 

                                                                                                                      Educational attainment                                                 

                                                                                                                                      

Less than a high school diploma.........    2,177        8.8      2,204        9.0      2,100        8.8 

High school graduates, no college ......   10,527       17.3     10,138       16.7     10,075       16.4 

Some college or associate degree........   15,832       28.7     15,562       27.7     15,494       27.3 

Bachelor's degree and higher    ........   27,202       42.2     26,244       39.8     26,619       39.4

The national government’s Corporation for National and Community Service (that oversees programs like VISTA, AmeriCorps, the Senior Corps including Foster Grandparents) boasts about its website that it is “home to the most comprehensive look at volunteering and civic life in the 50 states and 51 cities across the country.”  Here are the “Quick Stats” it presents for your consideration:

·        In 2013, one in four adults (25.4 percent) volunteered through an organization, demonstrating that volunteering remains an important activity for millions of Americans.

·        Altogether, 62.6 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.7 billion hours last year. Based on the Independent Sector's estimate of the average value of a volunteer hour, the estimated value of this volunteer service is nearly $173 billion.
  • More than 138 million Americans (62.5 percent) also engaged in "informal volunteering" in their communities, which includes helping neighbors with such tasks as watching each other's children, helping with shopping, or house sitting, and more than a third (36.3 percent) are involved in a school, civic, recreational, religious, or other organization.
  • The top volunteer activities included fundraising or selling items to raise money (25.4 percent); collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food (24.2 percent); providing transportation and general labor support (19.6 percent); tutoring and teaching youth (18 percent); mentoring youth (17.3 percent); and lending professional and management expertise (15 percent).
  • Volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity as non-volunteers. Nearly eight in 10 (79.2 percent) volunteers donated to charity, compared to four in 10 (40.4 percent) of non-volunteers. Overall, half of all citizens (50.7 percent) donated at least $25 to charity in 2013.
We can definitely learn some valuable insights from these raw statistics:
1)     We are a charitable nation; we do give large amounts of money and time to causes and politics.
2)     We have a core of volunteers at about 25% of the population who keep coming back to serve others year after year.
3)     Interestingly, the % of those volunteering by various age or racial groups does not vary to any great degree, but lack of education seems to be a very influential factor in terms of less giving, voting and volunteering.
4)     Individual charitable contributions are at the core of our giving – a huge 72%
5)     As a nation, we are pretty generous when one sees the amount given in total charitable contributions in 2014 -- $358.48 billion dollars – plus the amount our volunteer hours contribute - $173 billion!
6)     For all levels of educational attainment, volunteers were most likely to volunteer for religious organizations, followed by educational or youth service organizations.
But here’s the rub:  we are NOT necessarily world-leaders in terms of our degree of involvement by our citizens.  Here are some other items to consider:
A.    We seem satisfied to have just 25% of our population carrying the heavy need for volunteer work on behalf of others.
B.     We seem satisfied with an electorate that too often votes in numbers below 50% of those eligible to vote, and we seem satisfied that only 66.8% of eligible voters are even registered to vote!  Both Sweden and Australia, for example, manage to get more than 96 percent of their citizens on the books. The Swedes pull this off through virtually automatic enrollment.   Plus, the Swedes maintain a national database that includes the name, address, place of birth, and marital status of each individual.
C.     We seem to be a nation that is comfortable with a military made up of young men and women who volunteer their service on our behalf – a total of 1,429,036 on active duty (and another 1,100,000 in reserve).  Yet that number on active duty is only about 12% of those men and women who are eligible and fit for military service, and about 4.4% of the total population.  Reporting on this in 2011, the NY Times warned that less connection between the military and the rest of society could lead to less-informed decisions about whether to go to war, because conflicts and the people who fight them are not part of most people’s everyday lives.
D.    As a nation, we have allowed our electoral system to become infected and overwhelmed by the insidious dominance of large contributions from the richest individuals and corporations.  Individual and public tax contributions are not driving the system as they should, and the SCOTUS decision on Citizens United has left us with legal bribery by unknown donors as our accepted standard.  It is beyond disgraceful; it is appalling.
What needs to be said and recognized, in conclusion, is that we have the framework and some of the concepts that are needed for a revolution in our attitudes toward national and community service.  What you may not know is that the Corporation for National and Community Service touts one of the most important truths of our system of governance: “Volunteering and civic engagement are the cornerstone of a strong nation.”
And, little noticed outside the field of voluntarism is the tremendous effect that one of their early programs-- called “Learn and Serve”-- has had on our school-age young people.  The idea of volunteer work as part of the secondary school curriculum and activity (and its subsequent emphasis on college campuses) -- – now called “service learning” -- has engendered a sense of community service and volunteering as important facets not only of citizenship, but of life itself.  

If Hillary Clinton and/or Bernie Sanders want to change this country in a way that can have some lasting effects for all of us, then I suggest we add this to the national debate.  We need a national and community service initiative that implants the concept of service to the people of our nation and our communities as a necessity of citizenship; and let us not forget our relationship to the world at large.  The CNCS used to house the Peace Corps until the Reagan years, when it was moved over into the Department of State (where it probably belonged at that time) although one could question whether it got the attention it deserves in that environment. 
I am suggesting the inauguration of a movement toward national and community service that places some obligation and responsibility upon all citizens.  I hesitate to use the word “mandatory” but I believe that such service is as vital, crucial and integral to our political, economic and spiritual well-being as any rights or protections that we so vigorously proclaim. 
So Bernie – here’s a thought:  if you believe in single-payer health care and universal suffrage as rights and not privileges, how about touting a belief in universal service to this country as an inescapable responsibility of citizenship? 
And Hillary – if you believe, as I know you do, in the importance of family leave and women’s rights such as equal pay, and in the right of all children to a world-class education, how about adding the giving of service to community and nation as a responsibility incumbent upon all who can reasonably serve? 
And for all those right-wing candidates on the Republican side, I have something for you as well:  if you believe in the responsibility of each individual for his or her own welfare and advancement, how about providing a platform for every citizen to help, assist, create and mentor that responsibility.  And if you believe that every citizen has the responsibility to contribute to the welfare of this nation, not taking a handout but putting forth effort to pay taxes, get an education, be responsible family members and contribute to the economy, then how about getting on board the national service train because the volunteer efforts in this country are worth $173 billion last year alone, and they result in demonstrable PERSONAL GROWTH.  And, if every citizen is giving back to their country in one form of service or another, they will be contributing to their own advancement and to the welfare of other citizens and non-citizens alike. 
This national service movement is not a liberal or conservative idea – it is an American idea, with ideological principles and outcomes integral to each side of the political divide.  So get on-board.  Here’s an outline of my thoughts about this:
A.               NATIONAL SERVICE INITIATIVE
1)                  Urge Upon All Citizens beginning in grade school:  the equivalent of 4 years or 4,000 hours of community service donated over a lifetime or all at once 

a)                 Make it mandatory for some as an obligation to this country
(1)             Undocumented immigrants who want to earn a temporary visa and eventual citizenship
(2)             Anyone on parole or probation
(3)             Anyone sentenced to prison
(4)             Anyone in juvenile detention
(5)             Anyone convicted of a crime against persons or property
(6)             All corporations or businesses that receive tax dollars as a subsidy, rebate, incentive, or government contract
(7)             All persons who earn over $1 million the majority of which income has been derived from the coffers of government or the pocketbooks of ordinary citizens (and non-citizens)  

b)                Provide Incentives to volunteer for all citizens who do not already have access to:

(1)             Tax breaks
(2)             Scholarships
(3)             Grants
(4)             Loans
(5)             Stipend payments
(6)             Job training and internships
(7)             Child Care
(8)             Transportation
(9)             Healthy food
(10)         Tutoring
(11)         Mentoring

In other words, this national service program is also an opportunity to provide volunteer help to certain of the volunteers themselves to enable them to volunteer in the service of others, and to enrich their own lives at the same time.  It has already been demonstrated by the CNCS that community service is a two-way street that provides rewards for the nation, the recipients of services and for the volunteers who provide them. It’s a win-win-win proposition!  

c)                 Expand Choice of service

(1)             A Good Works Corps – dedicated to the revitalization of inner city communities

(2)             Neighborhood watch – not spying on others, but watching for, mentoring and developing future leaders

(3)             Mentoring – an indispensable tool for assisting in the positive development of young people

(4)             Expand CNCS programs – they are all worth expanding because they are proven to pay dividends

(5)             Establish stipended Volunteer Internships – start internships off on the right foot by paying something right away to people involved in training and continue stipend until a wage can be paid

(6)             Citizen Advisory Groups within public offices – we need ordinary citizens in the offices of government at all levels as auditors, advisers, and advocates for citizens

(7)             Allow CNCS to certify volunteer programs as qualified for required years or hours of national service

(8)             Allow informal volunteering to count toward quota – as above, define what these entail

(9)             Voluntary Military Service must be counted toward national service 

d)                Expand the Corporation for National and Community Service

(1)             Combine all current and new domestic programs under one roof

(2)             Consider bringing foreign programs such as Peace Corps under the CNCS if that would be productive and protective of these programs, and assure that goals and purposes are aligned between foreign and domestic programs

(3)             Bring in other volunteer programs that are now independent (if feasible) as Affiliates of National Service, such as:

(a)              Big Brothers-Big Sisters
(b)             Meals on Wheels
(c)              Habitat for Humanity
(d)             MADD
(e)              Volunteers for America
(f)               AARP
(g)             Global Vision International 

e)                 Expand Database to include all volunteer statistics (encrypt personal data)

f)                  As CNCS does now, expand efforts to involve all levels of government, as well as the private sector in the monetary and in-kind support of these efforts 

In essence, under this plan (except for the Military), the Corporation for National and Community Service would become a clearinghouse, a trainer of trainers, a repository of data and of resources, a broker, an advocate and a certifier of appropriate volunteer service as well as the certifier of those who meet their obligation of years or hours of national service.  However, instead of emphasizing only the aspect of meeting a quota, it would be the mandated duty of CNCS to broaden the concept of giving back to one’s nation and community as a life-long endeavor and responsibility.  It would be incumbent upon this agency to make real the aforementioned concept that
“Volunteering and civic engagement are the cornerstone of a strong nation.”
Do we need to remind ourselves of that potent phrase used by John F. Kennedy in his First Inaugural speech – it should be familiar -- and a national service movement should make it another cornerstone of its call to service:
“Ask NOT what your country can do for you; ask what YOU can do for your country.”
Going back even further to our origins, have we Americans lost sight of Thomas Jefferson's sense of active citizenship?  If a government body gives rights to the people, then those same people have certain responsibilities to uphold. This would be most obvious at a country or nation-state level, but could also be of wider scope (global citizenship). The implication is that an active citizen is one who fulfills both their rights and responsibilities in a balanced way. (Wikipedia)

I end this posting by saying that this proposal is but an outline of possibilities, and a work in progress.  There are other plans out there that should be considered.  Here are just a few links if you are interested in pursuing this subject further:

https://www.opm.gov/about-us/doing-business-with-opm/small-business-program/ --parallels some of the concept but for small businesses