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AmeriCorps Demographics Paint Middle-Class Face

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Washington

Citing new data on AmeriCorps participants, officials say that the fledgling national-service program has a middle-class face that everyone can love--even conservative lawmakers who want to gut two-thirds of its funding.

"AmeriCorps looks like America," Eli Segal, the chief executive officer of the Corporation for National Service, which runs AmeriCorps, told reporters at a briefing last week.

The first demographic survey of AmeriCorps members found that 53 percent are between 21 and 29 years old, and they come from families with an average annual income of $33,461.

Mr. Segal said that the member profiles clearly show that the program will help middle-class families pay college costs.

The survey also found that 47 percent of AmeriCorps members are white, 31 percent African-American, 14 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and and 2 percent Native American.

Mr. Segal said that the diversity comes without federal quotas, through the "good will" of local programs.

AmeriCorps, just six months old, has about 20,000 members. They are paid the minimum wage and $4,725 in college grants for one year of work in locally run education, health, and safety programs.

Vigorously promoted by President Clinton, who has made it one of the signature programs of his Administration, AmeriCorps has been targeted for elimination by conservative lawmakers who say it is unnecessary and undermines unpaid volunteer efforts.

Playing Defense

Mr. Segal's March 23 briefing came one day before Senate appropriators reviewed a House bill that would slash $416 million from AmeriCorps's $579 million budget for this fiscal year, virtually paralyzing the program.

The proposed cuts would also affect Learn and Serve America, another program run by the service corporation that awards grants for precollegiate and university-based service activities.

Learn and Serve America's $52 million funding for fiscal 1995 comes out of the AmeriCorps budget, and the program could lose $37 million this year if the cuts go through, officials said.

Also at the briefing was David W. Hornbeck, the superintendent of schools in Philadelphia, who said that 75 AmeriCorps members in 10 city schools help recruit and manage hundreds of volunteers in tutoring and jobs programs.

"For us, AmeriCorps is not at the fringes, but at the center of promoting high achievement," he said.

In a related event last week, Campus Compact, a coalition of more than 500 colleges and university presidents, held a Capitol Hill press briefing to support the embattled service programs.

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