We’ll know this afternoon whether the Tennessee Volunteers survive the first round of March Madness in their game against the Michigan Wolverines, but the big winners are the volunteers with a small “v.” In 2009, the latest data available, 63.4 million Americans volunteered through a formal organization, donating more than 8.1 billion hours of volunteer service valued at $169 billion according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. The number of volunteers jumped by 1.6 million from 2008, the largest gain in six years. The report noted that volunteering would be expected to drop during a recession year like 2009 because volunteer rates are higher among job-holders and homeowners. Instead, volunteering increased sharply. It’s heartening to remember this during a week full of very sad reports from Japan. Which city has the highest rate of volunteering in the U.S.? Here’s a hint: Brigham Young University, another March Madness contender, might consider changing its teams’ nickname from the Cougars to the Volunteers. Click here to view a map showing volunteer rates by city and state as well as other interesting information about volunteering in America.
On the economic front, the Conference Board said its index of leading indicators points to growing economic momentum in the coming months. The index increased by 0.8 percent in February, partial payback for the smaller weather-related increase in January. The gains were broad-based across the various components of the index, led by the interest rate spread and jobless claims. Housing permits remained quite weak, but low residential and commercial construction levels are giving the markets time to heal by diverting demand into existing properties.