Americans are a generous people — a truism that at first glance is tested by a new report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, an authority on the nonprofit world. It found that as the recession lifted, members of the poor and middle classes were comparatively more generous in giving to charity than the wealthy.
The Chronicle, using Internal Revenue Service data from tax returns by people who itemized their deductions, found that Americans give on average 3 percent of their income to charity, a figure that has stayed roughly the same for years.
The disturbing headline was that Americans earning $200,000 or more reduced their charitable giving by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. At the same time, those who earned less than $100,000 donated 4.5 percent more of their income.
That the less well-off rallied is heartwarming. But before anyone takes these results as an indictment of the wealthy, or as another example of the heartless workings of the income gap, it’s important to note that the wealthiest Americans as a group actually increased their charitable giving, even as they gave proportionately less of their income.
Their giving rose by $4.6 billion to reach $77.5 billion in 2012, in inflation-adjusted dollars. The Chronicle noted charities still look to high-income donors for support.
A different temptation is to read the results politically. The Chronicle reported that the 17 most-generous states were carried by Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. Ohio, which was won by President Obama, had a charitable giving rate of 2.72 percent, putting it 32nd among the states. Michigan, another Obama state, ranked 23rd, at 3.01 percent.
It seems there is room for improvement across the board. Particularly now, as the economy improves, some more cheerful giving is in order.
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