The role of nonprofits and volunteer work in job creation

People queue up to receive food as a part of a humanitarian aid effort to help the victims of a powerful earthquake that rocked eastern Turkey, in Ercis district in Van, on Oct. 24, 2011.

Kai Ryssdal: Bill Rodgers is a labor economist at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. Good to have you with us.

Bill Rodgers: My pleasure.

Ryssdal: Let's pick up on that last point from Sondra, if we could, and talk about nonprofits and their potential to help create jobs in this economy, because lord knows, not a whole lot else is working.

Rodgers: Yeah, the one thing that distinguishes nonprofits, particularly in the social services world, is that unlike the private sector, which has seen very little job creation -- only a little more than two million since February 2010 -- nonprofits have seen a dramatic increase in the growth for their services, whether it be food pantries or whether it be adult daycare. But conversely -- or problematic -- is that you've seen a major drop in those resources. So what folks talk about doing is, one, either getting people out to volunteer, such as Sondra, because as she said, it's a way to keep her skills sharp, it's a way to also keep that resume from getting gaps on it. But also, you're providing services and you're stepping out of yourself.

Ryssdal: Yeah. How do you do it, though? It's not like there's all kinds of money to go around to create all kinds of new jobs, right? Do you have to make a choice between, say, infrastructure and nonprofits?

Rodgers: I would try to keep infrastructure on the books, I would probably it's a choice between some of the tax cuts that have levied or been offered, particularly to those at the upper part of the income scale. And utilizing some of those dollars and providing wage subsidies to nonprofits who are willing to hire, for a short-term period. I'm viewing these nonprofit opportunities as kind of that bridge to our next prosperity, until we see job creation in the 200,000 or 300,000 range.

And why do I feel that way? Well, one is, we've seen a major drop in our ability to meet the growing needs. I'm not talking about people coming in and working in the food pantry and actually handing out food. You could do that. We need people who can help with resource development, who can help with strategic planning, who can help with improving our accounting standards. And of those who are unemployed, there's a great deal of untapped potential.

Ryssdal: It is, in essence, counter-cyclical, right? It's when times are bad, we need those nonprofits more, and when we have, as you say, that new prosperity, in theory and hopefully, we need them less.

Rodgers: Yes, and what we've seen is that a lot of communities still have that 9 percent unemployment rate, still have that 10 percent unemployment rate, and that tsunami of need actually hasn't hit the shore yet. So we really have an opportunity to think big, to think out of the box.

Ryssdal: Which, in theory, is a net social good, right?

Rodgers: Exactly. As I like to say when I talk about this, this really checks off a lot of boxes.

Ryssdal: Bill Rodgers at Rutgers University. Professor, thanks a lot for your time.

Rodgers: Thank you for having me.

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