There was an interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer today reporting on analysis of the 2007 BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey that shows that the poor are in some respects the most generous in charitable giving. The poorest fifth of America’s households (and we’re talking here about households with an average income of less than $11,000) gave an average of 4.3% of their incomes to charities in 2007, while the richest fifth (average income of over $150,000) gave at less than half that rate, 2.1%.
Obviously, the wealthy give a lot more in absolute terms, but it is interesting that those with ostensibly the most need are the most generous in relative terms. One possible explanation is that the poor are acutely aware of how important philanthropy can be. As Tanya Davis, a laid-off security guard and single mother explains in the article why she gives: “I’ve been in their position, and someday I might be again.”
It reminded me of the story of the widow’s offering when Jesus gave a lesson to his disciples on generosity:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”