- Volunteering during adolescence and young adulthood is associated with improved health and well-being. Civic engagement and national service can contribute to educational and occupational development and continued citizenship.
- Military service has both positive and negative effects on the health, safety, and well-being of young adults, with positive effects relating to educational and occupational development, and negative effects relating to military deployment, as well as to difficulties with postmilitary transition.
- Young adults who are members of racial/ethnic minorities, of lower socioeconomic position, and lacking a college education tend to be underrepresented in many venues of civic engagement and national service, yet there is evidence that these youth might benefit the most from such activities.
- National service programs have become more competitive and community goal oriented; the military also has changed, largely as a result of extensive deployment in the past decade and a half. Among other implications, these changes mean that
1 This chapter draws heavily on a paper commissioned by the committee titled “Civic Engagement, Volunteerism, and Young Adult Well-Being: Volunteer Work and National Service as Developmental Opportunities for Social Incorporation,” by Constance Flanagan and Victoria Faust. Available online at http://www.iom.edu/youngadults.
past understanding of the effects of engagement in these activities needs to be updated.
- In the past, national service programs focused on both member development and community improvement; more recently, especially for programs under the Corporation for National and Community Service umbrella, the emphasis has shifted more to community improvement. Given the likely benefits of national service for members (found in past research when membership development was a main goal), the decreased emphasis on membership development may result in inconsequential national service experiences for the new generation of young adults, thus creating a critical missed institutional opportunity for improving the transition to adulthood.
Civic engagement and national service encompass a broad range of activities including community service (volunteer and mandated), political involvement, environmental service, several teaching programs, and military service. Finding one’s connection to the larger world through participation in such activities is an important aspect of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, setting the stage for the next generation to become active and contributing citizens (Youniss et al., 2002); providing new and alternative opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways and explore the larger world and one’s identity; and providing experiences beneficial for work, education, and social relationships. Such involvement and contributions offer opportunities to participate and serve in ways not always provided by other contexts and activities, including work, education, and social relationships.
“My volunteer work gave me a view of another career path: working with kids, particularly on health care.”*
In this chapter we discuss the science and practice regarding civic engagement and national service during the transition to adulthood. We first provide an overview of civic engagement and national service during the transition to adulthood, focusing on the heterogeneity of experiences and possible effects. We then consider national service programs for young adults, giving specific attention to Ameri-
* Quotations are from members of the young adult advisory group during their discussions with the committee.
Corps, including the research conducted to examine program effects. Next, we provide a summary of military service and how it relates to the transition to adulthood. We conclude with policy and research recommendations.
Volunteerism and Well-Being
Although volunteering is aimed at helping those on the receiving end, it is also associated with, and may contribute to, health and well-being among those who volunteer. Extensive research, some of it longitudinal and experimental, supports the association between volunteering and health and well-being across the life course. Volunteering is not always associated with clear benefits (especially among middle-aged adults), but the body of evidence is striking for the absence of contradictory findings, with essentially no findings of negative effects (Piliavin and Siegl, 2014).2
Does volunteering contribute to, rather than simply being associated with, improved health and well-being? This is a key question for the research on volunteering (and for all research concerning any possible effects of experiences during the transition to adulthood), and one not easily answered. Panel studies provide consistent evidence of a positive effect. Independently of other kinds of social participation, such as religious attendance, visiting with friends, or other social activities, and with controls for earlier levels of well-being, volunteering uniquely predicts lowered depression and increased psychological well-being (Flanagan and Bundick, 2011; Musick and Wilson, 2003; Piliavin and Siegl, 2007, 2014; Thoits and Hewitt, 2001). Physiological effects also have been documented: the altruistic nature of volunteering and the social contact increase levels of oxytocin, which decreases anxiety and increases positive mood (Piliavin and Siegl, 2014). In addition, longitudinal and experimental studies with youth from diverse racial/ethnic and social class backgrounds find that volunteering is associated with fewer behavioral problems, including lower rates of course failure, suspension, school dropout, and pregnancy (Moore et al., 1994; Schmidt et al., 2007).
Volunteering in adolescence and early adulthood has been found to have long-term effects. Analyses of the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 panel data suggest that, controlling for a host of background factors, engaging in community service in high school increases the odds
2 The optimal level of time commitment is not clear in the literature; burnout can come from too much volunteering without sufficient social support.
of graduating from college in early adulthood (Dávila and Mora, 2007).3 Volunteering is the best single predictor of later volunteering. Panel studies show that volunteer service in high school and college is related to multiple measures of well-being in adulthood, effects that are mediated by volunteering in adulthood (Bowman et al., 2010).
Thus, evidence is suggestive that there are positive benefits on health and well-being of volunteering during adolescence and the transition to young adulthood, but the effect sizes are unclear. Possible explanations for the positive effect of volunteering include the value of expanded community connections, involvement with prosocial peers, structured use of time, and a sense of benevolence and individual and collective efficacy—i.e., that the volunteer “matters” to those in the organization and to the lives of others. Compared with other forms of extracurricular activity, community service has been implicated in adolescents’ reports of higher levels of bonding, bridging social capital, intergenerational harmony, and social support (Flanagan et al., 2014).
Changes in Civic Engagement During the Transition to Adulthood
Involvement in civic organizations and volunteering is lower among young adults than among high school students and older adults (Flanagan and Levine, 2010), with some studies showing rebounds around age 26 (Jennings and Stoker, 2004; Kinder, 2006). These shifts likely reflect changing roles and commitments, as well as changing institutions in terms of both opportunities and incentives (Kinder, 2006; Oesterle et al., 2004; Rotolo, 2000; Watts, 1999).
Among recent cohorts of young adults, delays in taking up the habit of voting are consistent with the protracted nature of the transition to adulthood and with delays in other markers of adult status discussed elsewhere in this report (Flanagan and Levine, 2010), a trend not unique to the United States. Across advanced industrial countries, younger generations are less likely than their elder compatriots to vote or contact elected officials (Dalton, 2008; Norris, 2011; Spannring et al., 2008). Since 1964, rates of voter turnout for presidential elections among 18- to 24-year-olds have been consistently lower than among all other age groups (File, 2014). Voting rates have varied across recent election cycles, but with 18- to 29-year-olds still having the lowest turnout rates (File, 2014). In both emerging and developed democracies, young people are less likely than older people
3 Many high schools require a certain number of hours of community service as a prerequisite for graduation, although the students select their service recipient and the service they provide. “Mandated” high school service is included within the term “volunteering,” and studies find similar effects regardless of whether the service is mandated.
to register to vote (Pintor and Gratschew, 2002). Over the past several decades, political trust has declined in advanced industrial democracies, and younger generations account for a disproportionate share of that decline as well (Dalton, 2004).
At the same time, youth are inventing and engaging in alternative forms of political action, including lifestyle/consumer politics (boycotting and buycotting), community advocacy and development, social justice–and interest-based campaigns, use of online technology for organizing and information campaigns, and global activism (Dalton, 2008; Keeter et al., 2002; Norris, 2002). A growing body of scholarship and practice on these new forms of engagement points to their potential for promoting the well-being of young people and the organizations and communities where they reside (Calvert et al., 2013). According to panel data from a nationally representative sample, 18- to 35-year-olds who used the Internet to blog, email, or post comments about political candidates or issues were more likely to participate in political campaigns and community volunteering and problem solving 2 years later. But even those young adults who used the Internet for apolitical interest-driven activities (i.e., discussions, or organizing or participating in social, recreational, fan, or special-interest sites) or who took the lead in an online community were more likely to engage in community and political campaigns 2 years later; online activities driven by friendships, however, were not related to later civic or political engagement (Kahne et al., 2013).
Differences by Social Class, Race/Ethnicity, and Gender
Both forms and levels of civic engagement vary by social class, race/ethnicity, and gender. Historical, community, and social forces can shape civic engagement, and research has shown that negative social and economic indicators such as poverty, involvement in the justice system, and school dropout are risk factors for civic disengagement (Beaumont, 2012; Ginwright, 2011). Research also has shown that traditional forms of civic engagement may not be desirable for everyone (Ginwright, 2011). In research on African American adolescents, Ginwright (2011) found that for these youth, civic engagement often occurs outside of traditional forms of such activity. Instead of volunteering at a local club or campaigning for a local politician, for example, these youth may work to obtain free bus passes for students receiving public assistance. Similar findings might plausibly hold true for young adults. Little research to date has focused on what can or should be done to address existing civic inequalities and stratifications for young adults with fewer resources or from disadvantaged backgrounds (Beaumont, 2012).
Civic engagement class divides have long existed in the United States,
with political interest and voter turnout being concentrated among the more advantaged segments of society (Pacheco and Plutzer, 2008; Verba et al., 1995). Young African Americans voted at the highest rate of any racial/ethnic group in 2008 and 2012 (Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge, 2013). Nonetheless, while nearly half (45 percent) of those aged 18-29 voted in the 2012 elections, those who went to college voted at almost twice the rate of their non-college-educated peers (CIRCLE, 2012; Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge, 2013). In 2012, 71 percent of eligible voters aged 18-29 who had any college experience voted, compared with 24 percent of eligible voters with a high school diploma and only 4 percent of eligible voters without a high school diploma (CIRCLE, 2012). Voters without college experience, compared with those with such experience, are more likely to have children in their household; to have lower income; and to identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. They also are less likely to be married and to include mothers who do not hold a full-time job (CIRCLE, 2012). The social class divide in political engagement reflects a larger divide in civic opportunities that begins in childhood (Verba et al., 2003) and is exacerbated by the uneven opportunities for civic practice in middle and high schools (Kahne and Middaugh, 2009). Rates of participation in religious organizations, voluntary associations, grassroots political parties, and unions all have fallen for “non-college youth” (Flanagan et al., 2009; Godsay et al., 2012).
The educational gap in voting has been highly consistent since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972 (CIRCLE, 2012). However, analyses of trends in intention to vote among high school seniors point to an increasing divide between those who plan on attending a 4-year college and their peers who do not (Syvertsen et al., 2011). Analyses of voter turnout in the 2012 elections show that policies also matter. Specifically, young people without college experience who lived in states with photo ID requirements were less likely to vote in 2012 than their counterparts in states without such ID laws in place, even when other factors related to voting were accounted for (Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge, 2013).
Regarding gender differences, college women are less likely than men to aspire to political careers at the local or national level (Lawless and Fox, 2013), to discuss politics on a regular basis, and to believe they have leadership qualities and skills that would qualify them for office (Kawashima-Ginsberg and Thomas, 2013). That being said, with the exception of programs that target particular groups, women are more likely than men to enroll in national service programs.
Summary of Causes and Consequences of Civic Engagement in Youth
In her recent book on the political theories of youth, Flanagan (2013) summarizes convergent findings from research on adolescent and young adult civic engagement and offers the following relevant conclusions:
“You get that feeling that you’re actually making an impact when you get to sit and talk with a 5th grader about what is college, what is higher education, why should you go, and do you have the opportunity. Many high-risk youth don’t have the confidence that they can go to college, that it is a door for them to step through.”
First, youth are more likely to be civically active as adults if they have had opportunities during adolescence to work collaboratively with peers and adults on engaging issues and to discuss current events with parents, teachers, and peers. Interest in political issues tends to be generated by controversy, discussion, and the perception that it matters to take a stand. Second, young people’s sense of social incorporation (solidarity with others, identification with community institutions, being respected and heard by adults) is a psychological factor that is positively related to youth assuming social responsibility for others in their community and for taking civic actions (voting and volunteering) in young adulthood. These relationships are true for youth from different social class and ethnic minority backgrounds. Third, there is a class and racial divide in the civic opportunities available to young people: cumulative disadvantage built up over the K-12 years (including the lack of opportunities to practice civic skills, the competing demands on attention and time of living in economically stressed communities, and especially events such as dropping out of school or getting arrested) depresses civic incorporation and civic action later in life. Fourth, besides opportunities, there are traits of personality (extraversion, confidence, optimism) that predispose some youth to join organizations and get engaged in civic action. Fifth, youth’s engagement in meaningful civic projects is positively associated with their psychosocial well-being and mental health. (Flanagan, 2013, pp. 2-3)
Institutions are the venues whereby people are recruited into civic life (Verba et al., 1995), and the nature of these recruitment contexts has changed over the past three decades. Unionized workplaces used to be a venue for the civic recruitment of young adults who did not go on to col-
lege; over the past three decades, however, union work and the potential for recruitment for this venue have decreased (Finlay et al., 2011, p. 1729). College has been and continues to be a venue for civic recruitment (Zaff et al., 2009). For college students, many opportunities exist both on and off campus, and a number of organizations and initiatives are devoted to encouraging civic engagement among students. For example, Project Pericles is a not-for-profit organization that “encourages and facilitates commitments by colleges and universities to include social responsibility and participatory citizenship as essential elements of their educational programs.”4 An additional example of an opportunity for civic participation is the Federal Work-Study Program. This program provides part-time jobs for students that need financial assistance (at approximately 3,400 postsecondary institutions), which helps them earn money for their education expenses.5 The program encourages community service work and work related to the student’s course of study. Other opportunities for civic participation can occur through a wide range of institutions such as religious organizations, voluntary associations, unions, and political parties, although young adults, especially those who do not attend college (as noted above), are less likely to be involved in these institutions now than they were in the 1970s (Flanagan et al., 2009).
As a substitute for or in addition to college, national service can offer opportunities for civic engagement, building social connections, exposure to training opportunities, and recruitment into civic life for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In fact, when youth from disadvantaged families were asked why they had enrolled in AmeriCorps national service programs, they said they wanted to make connections, get job training, and earn a stipend to further their education (Finlay and Flanagan, 2008). Not only does national service provide modest financial support for school, smoothing pathways to educational institutions, but it also may enable participants to gain financial and personal resources, including health benefits; to hone their leadership, organizing, and communication skills; to connect with organizations in the community; and ultimately to be recruited into many forms of civic, social, and economic life.
National Service Programs in the United States
Historically, the enabling legislation for national service programs has invoked two major goals: meeting the needs of communities and developing the capacities and character of volunteer members. Young adulthood has been framed in each piece of legislation as a unique phase in life that is formative of later life trajectories. When Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed
4 See http://www.projectpericles.org/projectpericles/about (accessed October 22, 2014).
the Civilian Conservation Corps, he argued that a period of prolonged unemployment would have negative lifelong impacts on the character of a generation. In 1961, when there were ample opportunities for young adults to find remunerative work, it was the assets of young adults that John F. Kennedy invoked when he proposed that the Peace Corps recruit young educated and talented Americans to share their resources with citizens of the developing world and, in the process, serve as ambassadors of the United States (Abt Associates, 2004). Each U.S. president since then has had his signature national service initiative. Lyndon B. Johnson started VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) as part of the “War on Poverty.” George H. W. Bush created the Office of National Service in the White House and the Points of Light Foundation to promote volunteerism, and signed into law the National and Community Service Act of 1990. In 1993, Bill Clinton created the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which included AmeriCorps, one of the most recognizable current national service programs. And George W. Bush’s development of the USA Freedom Corps in 2002 expanded volunteerism and national service partnerships, mainly in the area of homeland security (fire corps, medical reserve corps, disaster preparedness).
The most recent expansion of national service legislation, the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, signed by President Obama, was intended to reinforce, alter, and in some cases build on a wide variety of service opportunities. In its initial year, fiscal year (FY) 2010, it helped increase federal dollars allocated specifically for AmeriCorps positions (CNCS, 2010); as of FY 2014, funding levels for positions are about $63 million over 2009 levels (CNCS, 2014b). In general, there has been an increase in funding for national service programs, although not to the levels needed given the service opportunities allotted. In short, aside from administrative changes to service opportunities, the recent sweeping support for national service embodied in this act remains largely unrealized.6
The current umbrella programs coordinated by CNCS include AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund,7 and the Volunteer
6 In some cases, programs that were initially funded, such as Summer of Service, which supported middle school youth from disadvantaged families for participating in service, were defunded by Congress the following year because of budget cuts. Organizations such as ServiceNation and ServeNext have established a grassroots coalition to hold public officials accountable for the implementation of the Serve America Act.
7 The Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is a CNCS program and White House initiative, combining public and private resources for people in low-income communities in three areas: economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development. Although SIF is not a service program, some of the SIF funding for youth development includes programs that may impact young adults, such as Year Up and YouthBuild. See http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/social-innovation-fund for more detail (accessed October 22, 2014).
Generation Fund.8 In accordance with the Serve America Act, CNCS activities are now aligned under priority areas of disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families. A major objective of the CNCS 2011-2015 strategic plan is to extend the accessibility of CNCS-supported national service to a more diverse audience. Strategies for achieving this objective include giving funding priority to organizations and programs that engage underrepresented populations. Additional priority measures in the plan include increasing the percentage of CNCS-supported participants who are aware of community needs and community-driven solutions, as well as the percentage of participants reporting a connection to the national service community (CNCS, 2011).
Below is a summary of one of the most popular and recognizable national service programs—AmeriCorps—along with associated research. We also describe other, more youth-focused programs (more detail on these programs and associated research is provided in Appendix C).
According to Frumkin and colleagues (2009, p. 395), “AmeriCorps, a national program administered by CNCS, provides grants to public and nonprofit organizations to support community service. AmeriCorps comprises three major programs: AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps VISTA, and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).” AmeriCorps State and National and NCCC programs focus largely on direct service provision. In contrast, VISTA is more decentralized, focused on building capacity in local communities through individuals or small groups. Individuals learn about AmeriCorps programs through various routes, including public service announcements, social media, and formal (e.g., college) and informal networks.
One of the goals of AmeriCorps is to enable those who want to serve to do so. Thus attempts are made to remove barriers and to be inclusive. To counterbalance 1 year of full-time service, AmeriCorps members, often referred to as Corps members, obtain job and life skills training, a yearly living stipend ($10,900 to $21,800, depending on the program), health benefits, child care benefits, training, and forbearance of student loans (the interest for which is forgiven upon the completion of service) (Finlay et al., 2011). Often, they do not receive room and board, but many programs
8 The Volunteer Generation Fund supports voluntary organizations and state service commissions to increase the impact of volunteers in addressing critical community needs. The fund’s investments focus on volunteer management practices that increase volunteer recruitment and retention, which may impact young adults.
have access to resources and networks that can support members in meeting these needs.
Education Award. To counterbalance 1 year of full-time or continual part-time service, AmeriCorps participants obtain an education award that can be used to repay qualified student loans or toward higher education or vocational training. The education award must be used within 7 years of receipt (Abt Associates, 2008). In alignment with policies guiding federal financial aid distribution, however, members with convictions on their records, including a drug charge such as possession, cannot lawfully use their education awards. Corps members are eligible for the education award if they successfully completed their term of service or left for a compelling reason. Opportunities exist for alternative uses of the education award, although currently these alternatives apply only for members over age 55. According to Abt Associates (2011, p. 2), “The 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act made changes to the maximum amount of the education award. The amount is now tied to the maximum amount of the U.S. Department of Education’s Pell grant. For terms of service that are supported using 2009 (or earlier) funds the award continues to be $4,725 for a year of full-time service, and is prorated for part-time service based on that full-time amount. For terms of service that are supported with 2010 funds, the award value increases to $5,350.”
Qualified educational institutions around the country can contribute matching grants (varying in maximum amounts and restrictions) to AmeriCorps members that apply their education award to tuition and qualified expenses, as determined by the school’s financial aid department. For example, the University of Arizona offers 2 years of base tuition costs to former AmeriCorps members, but only for those who have served in the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension’s AmeriCorps and VISTA projects. The list of schools providing such benefits is available on the AmeriCorps website (CNCS, 2014d).
AmeriCorps State and National Program. As described by Frumkin and colleagues (2009, p. 397), “AmeriCorps State and National is by far the largest of the AmeriCorps programs, supporting participants through a network of local community-based organizations, educational institutions, and other agencies. One-third of AmeriCorps State and National grant funds are distributed according to a population-based formula to governor-appointed state service commissions, which in turn make grants to local nonprofits and public agencies.” AmeriCorps State and National members are enlisted by sponsoring agencies such as nonprofits, educational institutions, and other organizations to work toward addressing local community needs (Frumkin et al., 2009). Organizations receiving AmeriCorps funds are
required to obtain up to 48 percent matching funds. Some intermediary and sponsoring agencies acquire this money through a site matching contribution, while others use private philanthropic or state-granted dollars.
There are approximately 500,000 applications per year for approximately 80,000 AmeriCorps positions (many of which are part time) (CNCS, 2014a). Because an individual can apply to up to 10 sites, however, these application data include some duplication of cases. Currently, about 15,000 members serve full time, with more than 60,000 more serving in part time or education award-only positions across the country. Note that an increase in part-time positions is a significant change. According to the national longitudinal study summarized below, during the 1999-2000 program year, approximately 75 percent of members served full time (Abt Associates, 2004). This change can be attributed to the development of various models designed to be flexible so as to fit both the interests and needs of members and the community. For example, individuals may be serving “full time,” as in 40 hours per week of service that is recognized and supported by AmeriCorps, but only for several months during the summer for national parks maintenance or during the school year for educational support.
AmeriCorps members may opt to serve for a maximum of four terms of service. However, members are eligible only for the total equivalent of two education awards, or $11,290 (as of 2014) (CNCS, 2014c). The minimum requirement for eligibility is that an individual be a U.S. citizen, national, or lawful resident alien aged 17 or older. Although there is no age limit, most participants are young adults. AmeriCorps programs vary in their expectations and requirements for incoming members.
Many, although not all, AmeriCorps members serve in teams and address community needs in collaboration with agencies at the state and local levels and nonprofit organizations (CNCS, 2014a). Examples of AmeriCorps members’ work range from providing transportation to medical appointments for elderly residents, to doing house repairs, to assisting teachers in elementary schools. The 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act expanded the kinds of service to include areas of the environment, homeland security and first responders, and health.
Participants may have opportunities during their year of service to interact with diverse groups of individuals, to learn and practice civic skills, and to engage with older adult mentors, although the mix of opportunities varies by programs and sites (Abt Associates, 2004). In addition to on-the-job learning, up to 20 percent of a member’s time can be used for member development and training. Specific AmeriCorps training opportunities come from individual sites, AmeriCorps program structures, state commissions, and national workshops and conferences. Training typically includes reflective learning, team building, service project development, and professional development. Although mechanisms for accessing such opportunities vary,
two common structures that support civic and skill development are strong staff mentorship and team-based training. Team-based programs often consist of 5 to 50 members who train together and collaboratively complete local service projects. In some instances, civic development activities can include inviting a legislator to visit a service day, designing a community project, wrestling with individual differences across a team, developing a network of support, and completing an effective citizenship curriculum. In the past, programs utilized a toolkit for members called Effective Citizenship through AmeriCorps, which included modules on active citizenship, identifying community problems, conducting news searches and policy analyses, discussing rights and freedoms, and considering values in conflict (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2001). These particular activities, however, became less common as the emphasis on demonstrating community impact eclipsed the goal of member development.
Research on AmeriCorps. In summer and fall 1999, CNCS commissioned Abt Associates to conduct a nationally representative longitudinal study of AmeriCorps members. The initial sample included 2,000 people who were first-time, full-time members either in 108 of the AmeriCorps State and National programs or in 3 of the NCCC programs and who had registered between September 1999 and January 2000 (Abt Associates, 2004). A comparison group of 1,524 people was selected from among individuals who indicated interest in AmeriCorps by contacting CNCS for information but did not enroll. Data were collected at baseline (1999), at the end of the service period (2000), 3 years after baseline (2002), and 8 years after baseline (2007). Of the initial sample of 4,153 who completed a baseline survey, 3,300 completed Wave 2 (in 2000), 2,975 completed Wave 3 (in 2002), and 2,240 finished the final survey (in 2007). Data were analyzed using propensity score matching (based on national and community service interest, demographics, and previous civic engagement). This is a common strategy in nonrandomized experiments to help address selection concerns, thus providing better leverage on potential program effects; nonetheless, given the nonrandomized design, appropriate caution is necessary regarding any program effects.
In examining the AmeriCorp participants and the comparison group over time, both short- and long-term positive program effects were found, especially in terms of civic engagement, members’ community connections, knowledge about community problems, and contributions to community-based activities. Participation in AmeriCorps also was found to have positive effects on outcomes that could be considered both civic and work related—i.e., increasing confidence in one’s capacity to work with local government and to lead a successful community-based change effort. AmeriCorps participation was found to have other positive effects on employment-related
outcomes (public service employment), especially for ethnic minorities. Few statistically significant effects were established for measures of participants’ attitudes toward education or educational attainment (measured as confidence in the ability to obtain an education, personal responsibility for success, and actual progress) or for particular life skills measures, although life satisfaction increased more for AmeriCorps participants than for the comparison group over the 8 years. One negative outcome was found for the AmeriCorp NCCC participants (residential model of service): 3 years after baseline, this group was less likely to endorse intergroup contact as an important goal, although that attitude had disappeared at the 8-year follow-up (Abt Associates, 2004, 2008; Frumkin et al., 2009). Overall, despite the need for appropriate caution regarding the extent to which AmeriCorp participation caused the various outcomes, there were many positive effects on civic engagement and some on employment—both priority areas of focus for national service; however, there were few effects for educational outcomes or other life skills, which also are priority areas.
McBride and Lee (2012) found that 30 percent of the AmeriCorps participants did not finish their service term; ethnic minorities, those with lower levels of education, and those with a disability were most likely to be in this group. Reasons given for not completing were personal or health (38 percent), program dissatisfaction (26 percent), financial reasons (15 percent), taking a job (8 percent), and being asked to leave (5 percent). In addition, according to members’ reports, the likelihood of completing the service period was increased if the program members were involved in planning service activities, and if the program matched activities to career interests, helped develop mentor relationships, and encouraged members to reflect with others on the service experience.
Concerning reasons for joining AmeriCorps, those with lower family incomes were more likely to report that they were influenced by the education award or social connections (e.g., a peer was a member, AmeriCorps previously helped their family) or by a need for social connections (e.g., desire to make friends). Other reasons endorsed by all groups, regardless of family income, included needing a job, believing they would develop useful skills, and altruism (Finlay and Flanagan, 2009).
Finlay and colleagues (2011, p. 1732) found that, “As expected given their commitment to national service, Corps participants were more likely than the comparison group to endorse community participation (activities, meetings) and involvement in civic organizations (on issues of concern); however, they were less likely to endorse local or national voting.” Regardless of the Corps member’s socioeconomic position, serving with team members and community members from diverse backgrounds boosted civic commitments and behaviors over the course of the program. In addition, for members of lower socioeconomic position, feelings of belonging to a com-
munity and collective efficacy boosted civic commitments and behaviors. For those of higher socioeconomic position, opportunities in the program to lead and manage boosted those outcomes (Flanagan and Kim, 2013).
Concerning the potential of national service as a pathway to employment, the 8-year follow-up found that AmeriCorps participation had impacts on attitudinal and behavioral employment outcomes. Based on self-report measures, Corps State and National program members accepted responsibility for employment success (assessment of the extent to which they were personally responsible for job attainment success) and were more likely to work in the public sector, the arts, religion, or military service compared with the comparison group (Frumkin et al., 2009).
It is worth noting that less intense volunteer experiences also have been linked to employment outcomes. Spera and colleagues (2013) analyzed 10 2-year cohorts (2002/2003-2011/2012) in the Current Population Survey to assess the effect of volunteering on subsequent gainful employment. Based on respondents 16 and older who, in their first survey year, reported that they were either unemployed or not in the labor force but interested in working, the researchers identified a final sample of 70,535 in the 10 cohorts. After controlling for a number of demographic and community-level factors, they found that volunteering was associated with a 27 percent increase in odds of employment in the second survey year. The relationship between volunteering and employment was strongest for those without a high school diploma or General Educational Development credential and for those living in rural areas. The positive relationship between volunteering and employment was stable across gender, race and ethnicity, age, time, and community type/size.
Other National Service Programs
In 2014, the top 10 national direct grantees (national organizations receiving grants) were YouthBuild National, City Year National, Notre Dame Mission Volunteers, Washington Service Corps, Minnesota Reading Corps, Public Allies National, Health Corps, Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, and Jumpstart. Five of these focus on youth explicitly, while two (YouthBuild and Public Allies) hire almost exclusively disadvantaged youth.9 Some programs, such as YouthBuild, Public Allies, and PASCO (a regional service corps that engages all of its members in leadership devel-
9 Note that the Serve America Act defines “disadvantaged youth” as those who have one or more of the following characteristics: are out of school, are unemployed, are aging out of foster care, have limited English proficiency, are homeless or runaway, are at risk to leave secondary school without a diploma, are former juvenile offenders or at risk of delinquency, or have a disability.
opment), intentionally recruit “opportunity youth” and give priority to member development. Other programs, such as Wisconsin’s Fresh Start program, that involve youth from marginalized communities in service vary by state. While these programs receive funding from a diverse array of sources, they, often with supplemental support from AmeriCorps, make up the networked community of service programs that engage disadvantaged youth participants in civic opportunities.
New Directions in National Service: Implications for Young Adult Development
Based on changes in the Serve America Act, an increase in service opportunities for young people can be anticipated. While current funding allocations encourage programs to hire disadvantaged youth, one can also expect to see a greater level of professionalization of service in light of the rigorous goals for community impact through the CNCS distribution of resources. Senior AmeriCorps officials have suggested that retention rates for AmeriCorps, which in the aggregate are well over 90 percent, are an indicator of such professionalization, driven by increased competition for and the nature of the positions.10 The largest number of current positions focus on education, with basic educational attainment being required to achieve benchmarks established by performance measures. In the past, a wide array of activities related to construction work, gang-related or antiviolence work, and other areas established positions for members of various skill levels. Now, however, the roles of the members and the types of projects are driven by performance measurement goals, with, as noted earlier, an emphasis on demonstrating community effects.
Indeed, increasing the national service impact on community needs is the primary objective in the CNCS 2011-2015 strategic plan (CNCS, 2011). To achieve this objective, CNCS is engaging in a rigorous evaluation strategy, including allocating millions of dollars to program evaluation and evaluation capacity building. With respect to member training, funding formulas take into account only how members are trained in best practices for the implementation of interventions. CNCS previously supported longitudinal studies of participants’ civic development and has funded evaluations of participant impact alongside rigorous impact evaluations for programs such as Youth Corps (Abt Associates, 2004). Presently, strategic priorities include CNCS-supported participants remaining engaged in their communities and finding opportunities for professional, educational, or civic growth through their service. The present performance measures for funding allocation at
10 Personal communication, B. Basl, AmeriCorps, May 7, 2014.
the national level, however, do not provide for continual monitoring for civic development of participants.
CNCS’s new strategic priorities leave open the possibility that the emphasis will shift toward the development of national service programs that require higher skill levels upon entry. For this reason, it is important for those interested in the civic development of youth, and in particular of disadvantaged youth, to continue monitoring the goals, measures, and strategies of CNCS, as well as the development of other national service programs such as the Civic Justice Corps. It is also important to consider the value and fate of programs that have historically operated in the name of youth development and functioned largely independently of CNCS. Overall, the growing deemphasis on member development represents a lost opportunity to incorporate into national service programs mechanisms that could improve health and well-being during the transition to adulthood, as well as the productivity and citizenship of future generations.
Although long compulsory during times of war, military service is now voluntary, and the military is increasingly made up of many diverse groups of Americans, most of whom are young adults. The past decade and a half has been a particularly difficult time for military service, as several ongoing conflicts during the “War on Terror” have led to multiple deployments to war zones for many service members. As a result, recent cohorts of young adults are likely to feel the after-effects of military service for many decades to come (MacLean and Elder, 2007).
In 2012, young adults aged 25 or younger accounted for 42.7 percent of active duty military personnel at any one time and an even larger majority of enlisted servicemen and women (48.8 percent) (DoD, 2013). For most of these young adults, military service is not the start of a long career. Instead, it is a bridge between their adolescent experiences in their communities and secondary schools and their adult experiences in higher education and the labor market. In this way, the military is a context for the transition into adulthood for many Americans (Kelty et al., 2010).
This transitional nature of military service is one reason why many young people in the United States enlist in the military in the first place. In contrast to the growing trend in other forms of national service, the military is viewed as giving attention to the improvement of its young adult members. Thus, young people see this form of public service as a channel for social and economic mobility, the cultivation of important life skills (e.g., responsibility, leadership) and work skills (e.g., technology, trades) that they can carry forward into their adult lives, an exit from problematic or disadvantaged circumstances, and the opportunity to turn their lives around
(Kelty et al., 2010), and therefore worth the risk. Thus, today’s military tends to attract young people from somewhat lower socioeconomic backgrounds (especially racial/ethnic minorities from lower-income families), as well as those who face significant risks as they transition into adulthood (e.g., those with a history of problems at school or delinquency) (Kelty et al., 2010; Segal and Segal, 2004; Teachman and Tedrow, 2014). Military service is widely viewed as a potential break in the intergenerational transmission of inequality, although it does not always live up to this potential (Bailey, 2013). It is important to note, however, that the military pathway is not open to all, with ineligibility being due to, for example, overweight, mental health concerns, and substance use (Mission: Readiness Military Leaders for Kids, 2009). Young adults with a criminal record may also be ineligible to join the military, and with few exceptions, a high school diploma is an eligibility requirement (Mission: Readiness Military Leaders for Kids, 2009).
As noted, the introduction of all-volunteer military forces led to far greater diversity both demographically and socioeconomically. For example, African Americans and Latino/as are significantly overrepresented in the military relative to the general population, and immigrants now make up 5 percent of the active duty forces. The military also has seen a large-scale influx of women (who now make up 15 percent of the forces) and the rapid expansion of their roles, including combat in the most recent military engagements in the Middle East. Furthermore, with the repeal of the federal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in 2010 (which had been in effect since the mid-1990s), the service of gays and lesbians has become more visible (Bailey, 2013; Kelty et al., 2010). Thus, just as young adulthood has changed historically, the experiences of young adults in the military have evolved.
Military service is widely assumed to have profound effects on the life course. Understanding what those effects are, however, is challenging because servicemen and women are what is known as a “selective” population. That is, as is true for any sort of national service, people who join the military are likely to be different from people who do not, and those differences may be related to their general adjustment and functioning in the short and long terms. Consequently, whether the observed outcomes of those in the military reflect the causal influences of military service or the factors that selected people into the military in the first place can be difficult to determine. Still, when studies include controls for these selection biases, results suggest that military service does influence the lives of young men and women. Those effects often are a mix of positive and negative, with the mental stresses and physical risks of deployment undercutting some of the potential social and economic advantages of serving (MacLean and Elder, 2007; Sheppard et al., 2010).
The various social roles and activities discussed in Chapter 3 are a window into how the military can affect the life trajectories of young people who serve. The tendency in the general population for young adults to delay family formation until later in their 20s is less pronounced in the military. Indeed, young adults in the military are more likely than civilians in the same age range to marry, and when they do marry, they tend to do so at younger ages. Among junior military personnel, 36 percent of men and 37 percent of women are married; among their similarly aged civilian counterparts with comparable earnings, only 24 percent of men and 33 percent of women are married (Clever and Segal, 2013).
The same trend can be seen in fertility and parenting. In 2012, 43.9 percent of active duty members had children, and for 42,081 members this was their first child, with 53.1 percent of these first-time parents being aged 20-25 (DoD, 2013). The average age at which active duty members have their first child varies across the different branches of service, with the highest average age occurring among Air Force members (26.2) and the lowest among Marine Corps members (24.0) (DoD, 2013). Many features of military service likely facilitate this earlier family formation, including wage stability, subsidized housing (which often is based on family size and therefore sensitive to fertility), free health care, and a large military child care system. In addition, many military and civilian organizations focus on supporting military families (Huebner et al., 2009). Examples of formal military support include the Family Readiness System11 and the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program12; examples of other formal support systems include schools, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations (e.g., YMCA Military Outreach,13 United Service Organizations, Inc.14). These supports and protections may help keep families together when a spouse/parent is actively serving (and even deployed). However, formal networks alone do not ultimately change situations for families. Military families often rely primarily on informal network supports such as other unit members, friends, and family (Martin and McClure, 2000).
After service is complete, however, many of the strains of military life (including deployment) can have effects leading to a postservice divorce rate higher than that among civilians (Kelty et al., 2010; Lundquist, 2004). In general, as discussed in more detail below, the transition to civilian life can be stark and difficult overall.
Two worrisome patterns in the domain of military family life concern
14 See http://www.uso.org/About-Us/The-Organization/USO-Military-Family-Programs.aspx (accessed October 22, 2014).
child maltreatment and intimate partner violence. Historically, rates of child maltreatment have been higher in the general population than in the military, reflecting the many supports and resources available to military families. Yet rates of child maltreatment in the military population also tend to spike during times of military conflict and deployment, with nearly 50 percent more cases being seen during times of deployment than at other times (Gibbs et al., 2007; McCaroll et al., 2008). The past decade and a half would then be expected to be a period in which child maltreatment has been a particular problem among members of the military, and some evidence supports that expectation. A study of child maltreatment in Texas, which has a large military population, revealed that the difference in the child maltreatment rate between the military and civilian populations reversed during the 2000s, such that the military rate was higher than the civilian rate (Rentz et al., 2007). Although these statistics are not exclusive to that population, they also are highly relevant to the young adult population. Not only do young adults make up the majority of the military (and the recently deployed), they are more likely than older service members to have young children at home. In addition, rates of intimate partner violence are higher among active duty military members than in the general population, a pattern that extends to veterans as well (Fonseca et al., 2006; Stamm, 2009).
Beyond the family context, young adulthood is when most people are in school or entering the labor market. As a result, young adults enlisting in the military without plans to make it a career are momentarily stepping outside this traditional socioeconomic attainment path. At the same time, however, service in the military is closely related to education and employment outside the military. Given the overrepresentation of young people from historically disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups in the all-volunteer forces, military service has many features that can boost their future prospects. For example, it offers better pay and greater job security than most occupations available to those who enlist, and it offers more equitable treatment than many young adults would find in the broader labor market. Moreover, the GI Bill (which was significantly expanded after September 11, 2001) offers financial support for tuition and related living expenses for veterans who wish to pursue their education (Kelty et al., 2010). This widely used benefit provides an entrée to higher education for many young adults who would otherwise likely bypass college. As a result, although young adults who serve in the military have lower educational attainment than their same-age peers through the mid-20s, they tend to catch up (although not completely) as they move into their late 20s and early 30s. In addition, with the exception of whites, young adults who serve in the military tend to earn as much or even more income than their civilian counterparts through adulthood. One socioeconomic factor to consider is that early military service is related to more migration (i.e., moving from place to place) in adulthood. This pat-
tern is notable given that voluntary migration helps adults achieve a better fit with the labor market, increasing their long-term job prospects and, in the process, their earnings (Bailey, 2013; Kelty et al., 2010).
Young adults serving in the military thus make earlier family role transitions and have more concrete supports for socioeconomic attainment than young adults who bypass the military (especially those of similar socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds). These family and socioeconomic differences, along with the physical aspects of military training and work, would suggest that young adults in the military are in better health. Yet veterans are in no better physical shape than civilians, and they have a range of physical problems and limitations that are directly related to military service (e.g., disabilities, chronic injuries) (Kelty et al., 2010; Teachman, 2011).
Mental health is even more of a concern. Nearly one-fifth of servicemen and -women involved in the recent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced mental disorders, with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being among the most common and most often discussed (Kelty et al., 2010). For example, Hoge and colleagues (2006) report the results of two studies of large numbers of deployed service members in the Middle East. In the first study, in the early 2000s, they found that exposure to firefights and PTSD symptomatology were strongly associated and that only a small proportion (less than one-quarter) of those affected sought help. In a follow-up several years later, the link between combat exposure and PTSD remained strong, but more of those affected were seeking help, perhaps because of growing awareness of the problem (Hoge et al., 2004, 2006). Suicide also is a significant issue, with rates of suicide attempt and completion being higher among those with service experience than in the general population (Kaplan et al., 2007).
All of these mental and physical health patterns refer to military personnel of all ages, as young adults are rarely singled out in studies. Again, however, most military service members—especially those deployed for combat—are young adults.
It is also worth noting that the transition from military to civilian life, which increasingly occurs during young adulthood, can be problematic. In a short amount of time, young adults exiting the military go from strong daily institutional support and oversight to considerable daily self-direction. The pace and pervasiveness of this transition can overwhelm one’s coping capacity. In recognition of this problem, the U.S. Departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs offer the Transition Assistance Program (DoD, 2014).
Given the special relevance of military service to the transition from adolescence to adulthood, more attention is warranted to the specific segment of the military consisting of young adults. Young adult servicemen and -women are different from other servicemen and -women, and today’s
servicemen and -women are different from their counterparts in the past. Those differences need to be understood.
For some, national service is a logical next step after college; for those who do not go on to college, it can be a means for social incorporation, skill development, and network building. If national service is to provide such an alternative to college, especially for disadvantaged youth, it must provide at least some of the scaffolds (mentoring, counseling, education and training, communication, guided practice in leadership and teamwork) that are built into curricular and cocurricular college life. Although the primary goal of military service is clearly national security, it does provide this sort of scaffolding and member development, if only as incentives for service and to support its primary goal. In contrast, other forms of national service, particularly those under the CNCS umbrella, are increasingly moving away from an emphasis on member development. No doubt, investing in member development is challenging because national service programs are designed to respond to the needs of communities, and developing the capacities of those who serve can pose competing priorities for funding and allocation of staff. For example, one criticism leveled at national service is that engaging well-meaning but inexperienced people for short-term stints in service and allocating valuable resources to their training may not be particularly helpful to the host sites and communities. In 1999, CNCS invested in an 8-year study of the impact of its programs on members. As discussed in this chapter, however, programs are no longer expected to focus on or assess member development. The committee views this shift as a lost opportunity to optimize the transition to adulthood, especially for disadvantaged youth.
Thus, to help enhance young adults’ health, safety, and well-being, it would be beneficial to revive the historical emphasis on member development, including educational benefits as a reward for service (e.g., the GI Bill for World War II veterans, deferred college loans for Peace Corps volunteers). President Clinton invoked these and other precedents when he made the case for the AmeriCorps educational stipend—based on a reciprocal contract between the nation and those who serve it. National service has been promoted as an antidote to youth unemployment (Boteach et al., 2009), and national panel studies have shown that volunteering increases the odds of future gainful employment across racial/ethnic, gender, and age groups, and especially for people with low levels of education (Spera et al., 2013). Overall, although more rigorous experimental and long-term studies clearly are needed, existing evidence indicates that national service programs can have a positive impact on young adults’ health, safety, and well-being. Accordingly, we make the following recommendation:
Recommendation 5-1: The Corporation for National and Community Service, the U.S. Department of Labor, and other entities that fund service programs should expand and improve opportunities for service for all young adults. They also should emphasize member development (in addition to community impact) in program evaluations, including the short- and long-term effects of service on participants’ health and well-being.
Potential strategies for implementing this recommendation include the following:
- Develop a leadership pipeline into the public and nonprofit sectors, linking skill development in service with these career opportunities.
- Increase diversity in the leadership of service programs because most programs serve low-income communities, and leadership matters in the way community service is framed and provided.
- Increase interest among more federal agencies (the U.S. Departments of Justice, Labor, and Education) in the potential of service for the development of human capital. Examples of funding from sources other than the Corporation for National and Community Service already exist (e.g., U.S. Department of Labor funding for YouthBuild and the Civic Justice Corps). In July 2013, President Obama issued an executive order for a Task Force on the Expansion of National Service, tasking 20 different federal agencies to consider how they could tap into national service to accomplish their missions.
- Expand incentives that encourage service:
- − Encourage more colleges and universities (e.g., those in the Campus Compact) to match the educational stipends earned by AmeriCorps members. Roughly 100 colleges now match the award.
- − Provide more opportunities for college loan forgiveness to encourage individuals to enter national service. Expand loan forgiveness programs to link national service opportunities to areas in which community needs are identified (professional corps, law school legal aid). (Such models are developing in Michigan and Pennsylvania.)
- − Extend local and municipal credit for military service in the civil service employment test to civic service programs.
- − Where feasible, provide opportunities for future assistance in the labor market, such as by having members demonstrate competence that can lead to occupational certification or providing information on jobs and credible references.
Finally, further research is needed on national service among young adults and its role in improving their health, safety, and well-being. The following three areas are priorities for research on national service, including military service, to better inform salient policy and programs, with particular emphasis on reaching and involving disadvantaged youth:
- Identify factors that contribute to and enhance civic engagement and increase involvement in national service among young adults.
- Conduct more rigorous experimental studies to determine how civic engagement and national service impact trajectories of the health, safety, and well-being of young adult participants.
- Give specific attention to institutional supports and individual characteristics that facilitate successful transitions from national service to education, employment, social relationships, and citizenship.
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