When you think of charity, you probably think of rich benefactors stepping in to aid a noble cause. Yet it turns out that the rich aren’t nearly generous as the poor. In fact, America’s poorest people donate to charitable organizations at more than twice the rate of America’s richest citizens.
According to new research, the richest 20% only donated 1.3% of its income to charity, while the poorest 20% gave 3.2%. Once you take into account that the wealthiest are able to write-off a lot of these donations on their annual taxes, while the poorest do not even itemize such things, the discrepancy is that much more glaring.
The Atlantic summarized this study, as well as a few others that reached similar conclusions. The publication also cited a study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which examined charitable donations by zip code. The research found that residents of poverty-stricken areas were more generous than those in the nation’s most affluent neighborhoods.
The differences between rich and poor charitable giving don’t stop at the percentages: the recipients of each respective group are also notable. While the poor generally donate to organizations that provide social services and religious institutions, the wealthiest individuals’ money is gifted to museums, colleges, and the arts. In other words, affluent people prefer to give money to elite, cultural places that they can benefit from rather than allocating it to people who are in dire need of assistance like food banks and homeless shelters.
Dr. Paul Piff, a UC Berkeley psychologist, has conducted research on how money affects one’s morality. It appears that rich people have more of a drive to hoard their wealth, while poorer people tend to understand the importance of sharing. He concludes, “The rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people… more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.” Tell us how you really feel, Piff!
Of course, the takeaway from this data shouldn’t be that the rich are assholes. Not merely that, anyway. It should serve as a reason to question the 1%’s rhetoric that the free market will take care of society. It dispels the notion that kind-hearted rich people take it upon themselves to help the less fortunate and could do even more if not burdened by taxes.
Whereas many countries tax the rich to ensure funding for services for the poor, the United States operates under a system that supposes that the rich will address the poor’s needs more adequately than the government can. Accordingly, the tax code even incentivizes donations by providing financial breaks to wealthy benefactors. Yet still, the rich give way less than those with the least and favor charitable pet projects like giving money to their alma maters to have buildings named after themselves.
As Congress continues to push for austerity – slashing both social programs and the taxes on the nation’s top earners – it’s time we realize that most members of the 1%, the heralded philanthropists and job creators, are not actually planning to come to our rescue.