Americans’ charitable giving hits 19-year low at a time when many need help

Donating to charity has declined significantly among middle-income and lower-income households, a new Gallup poll finds

Workers help distribute food at a food pantry in Glendale Heights, Illinois. Many Americans are out of work — and there’s evidence that their financial instability is affecting their charitable donations. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)


Scott Olson/Getty Images

Many Americans are feeling financial pain, and now there’s evidence that’s affecting their ability to ease other people’s suffering.

The share of Americans who say they have donated money to charity in the past year has dropped to a 19-year low of 73%, a new Gallup poll found.

Gallup has surveyed Americans about their charitable giving since 2001 and usually finds that more than 80% say they’ve donated to charity in the past year, wrote Gallup senior editor Jeffrey Jones. The previous low was 79% in 2009, as the Great Recession gripped the U.S.

For this year’s survey, Gallup polled 1,016 Americans aged 18 and up in all 50 states between April 14 and 28, when residents of many major cities had been sheltering in place for weeks.

About three in 10 of those surveyed said they had donated to COVID-19 relief efforts.

See also: It’s ‘Giving Tuesday Now.’ How you can help out during the coronavirus pandemic — even if you don’t have money to donate

Giving to charity has declined significantly among middle-income and lower-income Americans, the survey found. When Gallup last polled people about their charitable donations in December 2017, 73% of households making $40,000 a year or less said they had donated. This year, 56% said they had. Meanwhile, among those making $100,000 or more, 92% said they had donated in 2017 and 87% said they had this year.

Other recent studies have shown a drop in the share of Americans who give to charity over the past two decades. An analysis by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Vanguard Charitable found that 20 million fewer households donated to charity in 2016 than did in 2000. Researchers said the decline could be related to Americans’ waning involvement in organized religion, but the uneven recovery from the Great Recession was also a factor, because upper-income households bounced back better and faster than their lower-income peers.

Don’t miss:The $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill encourages Americans to donate to charity

There’s a widening gap between how the rich and poor give to charity, with high-net-worth donors increasingly giving mega-donations of $10 million or more, while households with less means give ever smaller amounts.

Several billionaires have been active on COVID-19 relief: Michael Bloomberg has supported contact tracing efforts; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, led by Microsoft
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co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, has put $305 million toward treatments and vaccines; and Twitter
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co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey has pledged $1 billion of Square, Inc. stock.

Americans who aren’t household names have also been donating money to help people who’ve been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including some who donated parts of their $1,200 stimulus checks from the government.

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