The Poor Give More than the Rich

If you had more, you would give less.

Americans earning less than $25,000 give away 4.2% of their income on average and those earning $75,000+ give away only 2.7% of theirs according to a piece by Judith Warner in the NY Times The Charitable Giving Divide.

Some of the most interesting parts of the story were Warner’s discussions with grad student, Paul Piff, about his research at UC Berkeley:

“…lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.

“Upper class” people, on the other hand, clung to values that “prioritized their own need.” And, he told me this week, “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.” Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.

Piff found that if higher-income people were instructed to imagine themselves as lower class, they became more charitable. If they were primed by, say, watching a sympathy-eliciting video, they became more helpful to others — so much so, in fact, that the difference between their behavior and that of the low-income subjects disappeared. And fascinatingly, the inverse was true as well: when lower-income people were led to think of themselves as upper class, they actually became less altruistic.

Another interesting quote in the piece was from economist, Frank Levy:

“The welfare state rests on enlightened self-interest in which people can look at beneficiaries and reasonably say, ‘There but for the grace of God. . . .’ As income differences widen, this statement rings less true.”

“Runaway inequality (has led to) a pulling away of the very wealthy from the rest of American society. Do we believe the rich should be trusted to tithe, or should we have a society with a basic taxing-and-spending structure that ensures a modicum of economic security for all people?”

That last bit is the tie-in to the present day discussion on whether or not to roll back the Bush tax cuts. Personally, I’m all right with the “have’s” kicking in a little extra right now. There’s all this talk about if the wealthy have more money they’ll invest it and create jobs. That might be the case at times – and I do believe that giving someone a job gives them a dignity that no amount of charity ever could – but the folks who I know that still have money are sitting on it because the economy is still so uncertain. I don’t blame them.

Actually, I think the tie-in to the tax cuts in the piece is simply necessary to land it in the NY Times. The real story here is: More money = less empathy.

Don’t you just love humans and our short memories?

You give a poor person money and they care less. They forget the struggles they had. This is the whole “boot strap” argument. I did it by myself so you should do it by yourself.

There is no getting out of poverty by yourself or getting rich on your own. You can’t pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you don’t have any boots. At some point someone believes in you, whether it’s an employer or a client or an investor or a teacher.

The downside to financial independence is isolation. There’s more community in one apartment complex in the projects than there is in an entire development in the suburbs.

I work with a group in Muncie called Teamwork for Quality Living. They pair three middle and upper class volunteers, who are known as “allies,” with someone in the community who is trying to get out of poverty, known as “captains.” The allies don’t give the captains money, but they share their experiences, expertise, and connections in the community to help the captains reach their goals.

When the group meets as a whole, it’s hard to distinguish the captains from the allies, and, in fact, no one really tries. Two weeks ago when the group met we discussed what the allies and captains, alike, get out of the experience. Many of the allies talked about how they see the poor in a very different light now and the captains said the same thing about the wealthy.

It turns out zeroes in a bank account don’t mean as much as we think.

I guarantee that the members of Teamwork — captains and allies alike — give away much more than 4.2% of their incomes. It’s an investment that yields big returns in the form of friendship, confidence, faith in people, and empathy. And that’s something that no tax cut will ever do.

This Tuesday as part of my $10 for Tuesday project I’m giving $10 to Teamwork for Quality Living. I encourage you to find a group in your community to support with Time and/or moeny that breaks down the barriers between the have’s and have-nots and reminds us all that we’re in this mess together.

 
3 comments
Jama Kehoe Bigger says:

Kelsey,
Blood ‘N Fire is also a terrific group working with the poor in Muncie. Check them out for your $10 Tuesday project.

Angela Parson Myers says:

I try to give with some regularity, but for every donation I make, I get at least 5 more requests for donations–and 3 of them are from the charity I just helped! Eventually, I get overwhelmed and start throwing out all requests. After a few months, the requests slow down, and I can once again take time to look at those I receive. And I’m retired–not rich.

When I was working, part of my job was to allocate charitable giving. I can’t even tell you about all the requests we received that were obvious ploys to set up a charity in order to pay oneself a salary for running it! The richer you are, the more requests you get; the more requests you get, the more jaded you become. I can only hope that the rich can do as I do–pick three or four charities you can trust and can feel some connection to and give generously.

shazzad says:

I am a poor boy. I want to be a millioneare

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