Danielle Kurtzleben of Vox writes:
[D]uring the downturn and recovery, the poorest Americans upped their charitable giving. Meanwhile, the highest-income people gave less and less, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported this week.
The rich also give to charity differently than the poor: compared to lower-income Americans, the rich’s charitable giving places a far lower emphasis on helping their disadvantaged peers. When the poor and rich are (figuratively and literally) moving farther apart, an empathy gap naturally opens up between the upper and lower classes — after all, if I can’t see you, I’m less likely to help you.
Taken together, the trends paint a disturbing picture for the future of both the American economy and philanthropy: as the rich get richer and more removed from the daily lives of the poor, the bulk of charitable giving is also likely to become further removed from the needs of the poor.
Kurtzleben’s analysis is based on a widely reported study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a summary of which is available to non-subscribers. It states in part:
The Chronicle study found that Americans give, on average, about 3 percent of their income to charity, a figure that has not budged significantly for decades. However, that figure belies big differences in giving patterns between the rich and the poor.
The wealthiest Americans—those who earned $200,000 or more—reduced the share of income they gave to charity by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. Meanwhile, Americans who earned less than $100,000 chipped in 4.5 percent more of their income during the same time period. Middle- and lower-income Americans increased the share of income they donated to charity, even as they earned less, on average, than they did six years earlier.
Kurtzleben writes that “the lowest-income Americans tend to give the majority of their money to churches and other religious organizations (which often use the money to help the community’s needy).” That assumption seems worth questioning. Few churches that I am aware of spend more than 10 percent of their budget on what is usually called “outreach” and most spend less.
The rich, she adds, “are more likely to give to arts organizations, as well as schools and health organizations — predominantly hospitals and disease-specific groups (think Susan G. Komen).”
So, where do churches fit into this equation? The Episcopal Church has a disproportionately well-educated and affluent membership. What do we have to say to those folks?