Here’s news to warm Scrooge’s heart. Americans who have the most are giving more – to themselves.
Even as the income inequality gap yawns wider, the wealthiest Americans have reduced the percentage of income they give to charity while the poor and middle class are giving more. Between 2006 and 2012, top earners reduced the percentage of income they gave to charity by 4.6 percent while those earning less than $100,000 donated 4.5 percent more of their income, according to an analysis of IRS data conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The shift may not be as simple as a divergence between the stingy rich and the generosity of everyone else. For one, incomes of the nation’s highest earners have soared, meaning that even a cut in percentage can still produce an increase in dollars contributed. Donations from wealthier Americans increased $4.6 billion, adjusted for inflation, to $77.5 billion between 2006 and 2012, Forbes reported. However, the collective wealth of Americans in the Forbes 400 grew by $1.04 trillion in that period.
Some giving by the wealthy may be affected by changes in tax law or the rich may be giving from resources other than their incomes. Still, it’s discouraging that the bonanza enjoyed by the upper crust in a time of flat wages for the working class isn’t translating into giving a greater share to charity.
Now that many of the well-off regard paying taxes as a government confiscation rather than a civic duty, it’s not surprising that they may be less inclined to feel a charitable obligation to civic betterment or the needs of their fellow man.
Still, there is good and heartening news in the Chronicle’s report that those with less are giving more. That is the highest form of charity – to give from one’s need rather than from one’s excess. Perhaps the lean years since the Great Recession hit have reminded more Americans of their vulnerabilities and softened their attitudes toward others in need.
The Chronicle’s editor, Stacy Palmer, told Forbes that, “Lower and middle-income people know people who lost their jobs or are homeless, and they worry that they themselves are a day away from losing their jobs. They’re very sensitive to the needs of other people and recognize that these years have been hard.”