Recently, there was an article in the Portland Tribune that discussed volunteer rates, particularly as they relate to the unemployed. It was a great article with several lessons built right in.

The primary comments were that the unemployed, who probably have the time, were the least likely to volunteer and that volunteer numbers were continuing downward. Since 2002, the ranks of the unemployed have decreased their volunteer rate by 3%. Although there were many issues that were involved for this decline, the most notable is the fact that the unemployed lose social interest and become disconnected from their community and social fabric. The article cited a 35% drop by people who lose their job even one time, but at some point were volunteering.

The most concerning comment was regarding the long term implication, which is that this level of disconnect created a behavior change in people that lasted permanently, often even after employment was regained. These people tended to lack good communication and maintained a level of disconnect with others. The issue I see with this is that the best way for a job seeker to find a job will be through the relationships or networks they have established and keep refreshed – only now they are cutting off their own life line. This could be a self-perpetuating problem. The thing that happens the most (social disconnect) is the thing you want to have happen the least. They pointed out depression as either being a contributor or an outcome.

If there ever was an argument for "getting out of the house", this set of facts is it. You might feel down in the dumps and not up for socializing BUT now is the time to do it! Or risk changing yourself forever to a reclusive, silent person.

Let’s look at the benefits of volunteering while unemployed:

If you get volunteer work in your job area, it can act to keep your skills sharp and up to date.

If you’re concerned about job gaps, it can fill your gap while you’re still looking for a job.

It will expand your very important network.

If you’re changing careers, you can learn new things which can be put on your resume.

It will make you feel good about helping people in your community.

Based on studies, it will keep you connected to others, keep your communication skills honed and stave off depression.
In other words, there are truly a number of very compelling reasons why you would want to volunteer.

If you are a job seeker, you need to spend some time examining what you are and aren’t doing, particularly as it relates to your social interactions. While I think you would do well to get up and get volunteering, minimally you need to ensure your days include time to interact and communicate with others. You don’t want to become a recluse or a sullen, withdrawn person for the rest of your life. It won’t enhance your life and it will certainly make everything you’re doing just that much more difficult.

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