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FEWER PEOPLE ARE DONATING, BUT AMOUNT GIVEN IS GROWING

SHARE FEWER PEOPLE ARE DONATING, BUT AMOUNT GIVEN IS GROWING

Most economists agree that Americans with weak job skills are falling ever farther behind. A rising tide - we are in a modestly rising one - lifts most boats, but not the unbuoyant hulks that lack seaworthiness in today's economic ocean. One index of this sad trend is that the number of U.S. households donating to charity is at its lowest total since at least 1988.

Based on findings from a Gallup Poll conducted every two years for the Independent Sector, a leadership organization that encourages giving and volunteering, 68.5 percent of Americans gave to worthy causes in 1995, down from 73 percent just two years earlier. The non-giving households are mostly struggling ones.Yet if giving is a yardstick of economic reinvigoration, the fortunes of many, perhaps most, Americans seem hale. More affluent households increased their donations even as poorer ones cut back. The average household contribution among those who gave was $1,017 - a 10-percent increase over 1993. The greater liberality of the well-to-do meant that, despite fewer households supporting charities, the average contribution for all households edged up 2 percent. Bottom line: Total giving in dollars was up.

Many citizens are unable to match their skills to a decent-paying job. Yet the majority who have done so are writing out bigger checks to uphold a commitment to make America better. This speaks well of a country that sometimes doesn't speak very well about itself.