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Tom Purcell: Charitable giving — it's an American tradition

| Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, 8:39 p.m.
Tony Ealey of New Kensington mans the red kettle outside the Shop 'n Save in New Kensington on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, while collecting for the Salvation Army.
Matthew Medsger | Tribune-Review
Tony Ealey of New Kensington mans the red kettle outside the Shop 'n Save in New Kensington on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, while collecting for the Salvation Army.

Ah, the giving season is upon us — the best time of the year to be an American.

According to Giving USA 2017: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016, American giving rose to $390 billion last year — a 3 percent increase over the prior year.

Americans give around 3 percent of our collective income to charity — more than the citizens of any other country. Better yet, these are individual Americans, not the government, who are generating the lion's share of the contributions.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the vast majority of U.S. citizens donate to charity — and 91 percent of high net-worth households do. Though most of the contributions come in small amounts, the average household contribution equals $2,520 — no small amount of generosity.

Giving USA says individual Americans gave an estimated $281.86 billion in 2016 — an increase of 3.9 percent over the prior year. Individual giving accounted for 72 percent of all charitable giving in 2016.

The balance of giving, some 28 percent, came from foundations ($59.28 billion), bequests ($30.36 billion) and corporations ($18.55 billion).

In 2016, the United States government gave about $40 billion in foreign aid to more than 100 countries — only about 10 percent of what our individuals and private organizations gave.

The fact is America is the most generous country on Earth, and most of the giving is coming from individuals sharing their hard-earned dough.

According to a 2006 report by journalist John Stossel, Americans give 3 12 times more, per capita, than the French, 7 times more than the Germans and 14 times more than the Italians.

Though not all Americans are as generous as they could be.

One might assume that the more liberal folks in America — folks who voice their concerns about the poor — would be more likely to donate to charitable causes. But that turns out to be a myth.

Stossel set up a Salvation Army bucket in two places: Sioux Falls, S.D., and San Francisco, Calif. San Francisco has a lot more dough and a lot of people who classify themselves as politically liberal; only 14 percent of the people who live there attend church. Sioux Falls is a rural, middle-class community in which half the folks are churchgoers.

So which city gave more? The Sioux Falls folks won hands down. Stossel pointed out that the simple reason why is that liberal folks tend to believe the government should take care of the poor, whereas more religious folks tend to be big believers in giving their own time and money to help a variety of charitable causes.

Stossel found, in fact, that almost all the people who donated to the Salvation Army in Sioux Falls were churchgoers. And that churchgoers are four times more likely to give to charity than those who are not.

Another interesting finding was that the people who give the most, as a percentage of their wealth, aren't the richest Americans or even middle-class Americans — they're the folks on the lower end of the economic scale. They give almost 30 percent more of their income than anybody else.

In any event, the holiday season is upon us, and it is the favorite time of the year for Americans to give to individuals and to the charities of our choice.

Bolstered by last week's #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that now falls on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the giving season is off to a great start. On #GivingTuesday, more than 2.5 million individuals donated $274 million — $100 more than last year.

As I said, it's the giving season, the best time of the year to be an American.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. His books include “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery. Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com. Email him at: Tom@TomPurcell.com.

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