Poor Americans Are Country's Most Charitable Demographic

Recent surveys have found that not only do the poor donate more per capita than individuals in higher income brackets, but that their generosity tends to remain higher during economic downturns, McClatchy Newspapers reports.

According to Virginia Hodgkinson, former vice president for research at Independent Sector, people in the bottom 20 percent of the population in terms of wealth tend to give more than their capacity to give, while those in the next two-fifths give at capacity. Americans in the top 40 percent are capable of donating two or three times more than they actually give, Hodgkinson said.

The latest survey of consumer expenditures by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the poorest one-fifth of American households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their income to charitable organizations in 2007, while the richest fifth donated 2.1 percent of their income. The pretax household income of the poorest fifth averaged $10,531 in 2007, while the top fifth averaged $158,388. The discrepancy is even more notworthy because charitable gifts from the poor are effectively not tax-deductible because the poor don't earn enough to justify itemizing their deductions.

While the poorest Americans tend to be the least educated and most likely to be on welfare, the ranks of the poor also include a large number of women, who tend to be more generous than men. Moreover, the working poor — a disproportionate number of whom are recent immigrants — are America's most generous group, according to Arthur Brooks, author of Who Really Cares and president of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

Others believe that the poor give more because they require less to be happy. "When you have just a little, you're thankful for what you have," said Pastor Coletta Jones, minister of the Rock Christian Church, a tithing, largely low-income congregation in Washington, D.C. "But with every step you take up the ladder of success, the money clouds your mind and gets you into a state of never being satisfied."

Frank Greve. "America's Poor Are Its Most Generous Givers." McClatchy Newspapers 05/19/2009.