A peculiar side effect of the 2009 closure of the Janesville General Motors plant might be showing up in the decline of volunteering at local nonprofit organizations.

We don’t have definitive proof the GM plant closure is responsible for some organizations’ struggles to recruit volunteers, but it’s noteworthy a recent study shows volunteer rates in Wisconsin counties have been stable since 2004, with the exceptions of Rock and Kenosha counties.

These two counties experienced a decrease in volunteer rates, according to a 2018 University of Maryland School of Public Policy study, which examined volunteer rates across the nation. The study found correlations between declines in volunteering and economic hardships, including lower homeownership rates, higher unemployment and lower median incomes.

The 2008 financial crisis hit Janesville and Rock County harder than most areas, decimating many households whose incomes depended on the plant or ancillary businesses.

Financial hardship likely explains why nonprofit groups, such as the Rotary Botanical Gardens, have reported significant declines in the amount of time people spend volunteering for their organizations.

Families have less time to volunteer because parents must work more jobs or longer hours to pay the bills. Older people have traditionally stepped into volunteer roles in retirement, but many of them have delayed retirement and feel compelled to continue working because of a lack of savings.

While the pool of potential volunteers seems to be shrinking, there’s a growing number of people in need of help. Indeed, one of the area’s largest food pantries, ECHO, has said it’s struggling to keep up with demand for its services. It seems many area residents haven’t reaped the benefits of an expanding economy.

Perhaps the silver lining in all this is Janesville does have—if not a strong army of volunteers—a large group of nonprofit organizations devoted to improving the community and helping people in need.

If you can’t afford the time to volunteer, you should consider donating to one of these organizations. And if you don’t have a favorite charity, consider giving to the United Way. It does all the vetting for you and gives money to organizations with a proven track record.

There’s no excuse to hold back if you’re in a position to help.

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