Conservatives have been insisting that people who are poor, disabled, or otherwise down on their luck financially should rely on private charity rather than government assistance to help them out of their tough financial situation. What happens if people aren’t giving enough to help everyone who needs it, though? What if there isn’t enough food, clothing, shelter, and money that people are able, or willing to give? Conservatives like to say that we should have the choice about whether or not to give our hard-earned dollars to struggling people; what if no one chooses to give? Well, sometimes, especially during economic recessions where more people need charity, fewer people are able, or willing, to provide it.
Let’s all say it together: duh.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — As the recession whacked the economy, charitable giving by even the wealthiest Americans took a substantial hit, according to a study released Tuesday.
Although 98.2% of high net worth households donated to charity in 2009, they gave substantially less than in the years before, according to a survey for Bank of America Merrill Lynch by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Average charitable giving by wealthy households sank 34.9% to $54,016 last year — down from $83,034 in 2007, after adjusting for inflation. The Center on Philanthropy conducts its study every two years.
“The reality is that while the level of commitment is holding steady, folks are feeling constrained, they have less money to give away,” noted Claire Costello, national foundation executive for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
While the very wealthy cut back sharply, overall giving suffered a milder decline. Total charitable donations fell 3.2% in 2009 from a year earlier, the report’s authors estimate. In that same time, the unemployment rate rose to 9.3%, up from 5.8% in 2008.
High net worth households account for 65% and 70% of all individual giving in the U.S., according to the Center on Philanthropy. It surveyed those with a household income greater than $200,000 or net worth of at least $1 million. The average wealth of the survey’s 800 respondents was $10.7 million.
So, are wealthy Americans choosing not to give because they are no longer able to afford it? No. The biggest reason why the majority of people opted not to donate to charity is far less sympathetic:
Asked why they stopped giving to organizations they had supported in the past, the top response by far was that the particular charity solicited money too frequently or asked for inappropriate amount.
Nearly 60% of those surveyed said that was why their donations dried up. More than a third said they decided to support other causes instead, and 29% said they stopped giving because their household circumstances changed.
So the needier the recipients of charity are, the more frequently charities solicit donations. The more charitable organizations solicit donations, the less likely wealthy people are to deem them worthy of their financial gifts (nevermind that there is never a minimum donation requirement, only suggestions). But a lot of conservatives like it that way; after all, they get to determine exactly who is worthy of what amount of money from them. If they don’t particularly care about the plight of a particular group of disadvantaged people, they don’t have to give to a charity that group of people. And if no one cares for the plight of that particular group? Well, clearly, they don’t deserve the help. If that isn’t the belief of these conservatives, then they have failed at making public their alternate recommendations.
The problem with deciding that all of the help and support that a person may need should come from private donations and charity is that inevitably, there will not be enough to go around. Without an unbiased system that is able to distribute the assistance appropriately, based on need, people will starve. People will be homeless. People will be unfairly discriminated against. People will die. Why? Because they were down on their luck, and someone chose not to help them, and there was no safety net available to help them when no one else would. Should it be up to privileged individuals to decide for themselves who gets assistance and who doesn’t? With charity and private donations, we get to choose the organizations and causes we care most passionately about. This is great; but what if it were the only way that people received assistance? Because the attitude that often comes with this mentality is one of punishment. Would these so-called Christians give money, food, or other charity to the homeless gay teenager who was kicked out of his parents’ house for being gay? Many probably would; but a great number probably wouldn’t. What would they say if they knew that their decision to withhold aid that they were able to give meant that that gay teen would remain homeless, get sick, and possibly die? Would they consider that just too bad, or would they decide that it was God’s punishment for living what they consider to be a sinful life?
These are extreme, hypothetical situations, but all of them are possible, and would certainly happen if these misinformed, wannabe anarchists got their way.
A woman who appears to have gotten the entirety of her half-baked ideas from Glenn Beck’s radio show made a cute little video and put it on YouTube to explain to us exactly how and why Jesus was not a socialist, and why we should eliminate public assistance in favor of private charity. I questioned her about what happens when people can’t afford to give, or if someone can’t rely on the charity of friends, family, or other private organizations. Her response was a rant that got more and more incoherent the longer she typed. If you’re so inclined, here’s the video. The string of comments can be found on her YouTube channel itself, but we all know how juvenile and obnoxious YouTube comments are, so you’ve been warned.