Who Really Cares?

I’m betting you do

If we can get past the negativity and bombast of our political rhetoric, there is at least one true fact: government spending will be cut in coming years, and the first cuts will be to programs that most impact the poor.

I would like to think we live in a world where taking care of the poorest and weakest amongst us outranks buying more Predator drones and bombs, where American corporations wanted to pay their fair share of tax for the betterment of our nation, but that’s not going to happen in my lifetime.

However, there is cause for hope.

Consider this: “In times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps. That is who we are. That is what we do.

That’s President Obama speaking following the earthquake that devastated Haiti — and he was right. He is right.

The fact is, America has the highest rate of charitable giving as a percentage of GDP in the world, nearly twice as high as the runner-up, the UK.

Since 1970, charitable giving in the US has remained fairly constant at about 2% of GDP. But that’s an average, and the individual giving that produces that average varies in ways you might not expect.

For instance, those earning more than $100,000 per year — which includes millionaires and billionaires — give away about 3.09% of their income annually. But those earning less than $20,000 a year, give away a lot more: 4.58%. **

Of course, 3% of $1 million is a lot more money than 5% of $20,000 — but the impact on the poorest givers is much higher than on the richest. When you’re living on less than $20,000 a year — and I honestly don’t know anyone who can — every penny counts.

The average family in South Dakota, one of America’s poorest states, gives 75% more of its income to charity, on average, than the average family in San Francisco. And, family earnings being equal, religious Americans give more than 3.5 times more money and time to charities than non-church-goers, and not just to religious institutions.

Tithing 10% of their income is something millions of religious Americans practice, whether they be Christian, Muslim or Buddhist.

So, this is where my hope lies.

As our government is forced to help less, we American citizens will begin to give more.

We will not sit idly by and watch people suffer. Our track record of giving to international relief — whether it’s Indonesia, Haiti or Japan — proves this.

We will not turn away, indifferent, when tornadoes and floods take everything away from our neighbors in the South.

And perhaps this is how it should be.

Perhaps knowing our government will no longer provide that safety net will inspire us to an even greater sense of community.

Perhaps the ethic of our shared responsibility as citizens of this great country will spread to the corner offices and board rooms of every hedge fund, investment bank and major corporation in America, and we will start thinking more of others than of further enriching ourselves.

As John Lennon once sang, “People say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”




** all statistics from Who Really Cares, by Arthur Brooks