Voluntary national service is really popular. Can it be part of the COVID recovery?

It was a key part of FDR's plan during the Great Depression


During the Great Depression, FDR put over 250,000 young unemployed men to work through the Civilian Conservation Corps, a newly created national service program focused on environmental investment. In the 1960s under JFK, the U.S created the Peace Corps, which sends Americans to do volunteer work internationally. In 1993 under Bill Clinton, the U.S established AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, voluntary national service programs that place people around the country with nonprofits and community organizations. And after 9/11 under George W. Bush, the country expanded these national service opportunities, with a 50 percent increase in AmeriCorps, hundreds of thousands of new positions for Senior Corps, and bringing Peace Corps volunteers to their highest levels in decades.

But that was the last time Congress has actually put more money forward to expand national service. And this is despite polls consistently showing strong support among Republicans, Democrats and independents for the idea, and research showing that national service can be really cost-effective investments for governments to make.

So at a time of horrible economic devastation with millions out of work and layoffs increasingly looking permanent, why doesn’t the federal government help expand national service opportunities, funding jobs like tutoring, contact tracing, environmental repair, food preparation, caregiving and more?

For Bloomberg Businessweek I looked at this question and reported on where things stand in D.C, why some advocates are feeling very optimistic about this moment, and what the barriers have been over the last 15 years. The story is not too long, and I think you’ll find it interesting. You can read it here!