Here’s an unpleasant holiday statistic: average Americans are giving significantly less to their favorite charities this year than they did just four or five years ago.
Average Americans have long been among the most generous people on Earth.
But this year, thanks to an economy disrupted by COVID, soaring interest rates and three years of high inflation, many are unable to give.
Americans are hurting in their pocketbooks.
This past year credit-card debt jumped faster than ever before in history, reports Business Insider, as more Americans are borrowing at high interest rates just to meet their daily living needs.
An increasing number of people are taking hardship withdrawals out of their 401K savings accounts, reports CNBC — tapping their future retirement funds to pay bills they are unable to afford today.
As a result of these financial troubles, a regrettable shift in charitable giving has occurred.
When I last wrote about giving in America in 2017, the people who gave the most, as a percentage of their wealth, weren’t the richest Americans.
They weren’t even middle-class Americans.
They were the people on the lower end of the economic scale — people who gave almost 30 percent more of their income to charity than any other income bracket.
That changed in 2020 when COVID lockdowns wreaked havoc on the economy.
Before that, according to Gallup, more than 80% of U.S. adults said they donated money to a religious or other type of charity.
But in 2023, regrettably, individual giving has dipped to about 70% — and the biggest drop-off has happened among America’s lowest earners.
About 73% of people who earned under $40,000 in 2017 gave what they could to charities.
During the peak of COVID in 2020, that percentage fell to 53% and still remains low — which is heartbreaking, because no group of people understands the joy of giving to others better than America’s most humble earners.
While our lowest earners are struggling the hardest in a difficult economy — and therefore are giving less — another group is making up the shortfall: America’s extremely well-off.
Americans with a household net worth of more than $1 million, or those who make more than $200,000 per year, are giving 19% more now than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the AP.
Barrons reports that the landscape of philanthropy has shifted from average individuals giving, say, to The Salvation Army, to wealthy nonprofits and corporations that may be more interested in using their sizable funds to promote the latest popular cause or “systemic societal change.”
Private charity in all its forms is welcome.
But if we want more of the kind that helps the less-fortunate individuals and families who need it most, we need to reverse the incredible damage government policy has done to our economy.
A good start would be to end the spendthrift fiscal and monetary policies that cause inflation and interest rates to spike.
Let’s help our lowest earners get their heads back above water so they can experience the joy of giving again every Christmas.
After all, they know how to spread the joy of giving better than anyone — by helping a needy neighbor pay their utility bills or making sure the neediest children have presents to open on Christmas morning.
Tom Purcell, creator of the infotainment site ThurbersTail.com, which features pet advice he’s learning from his beloved Labrador, Thurber, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.