… because they give more generously than the rich, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Did you see that story?
Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest survey of consumer expenditure found that the poorest fifth of America’s households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations in 2007. The richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent.
The figures probably undercount remittances by legal and illegal immigrants to family and friends back home, a multibillion-dollar outlay to which the poor contribute disproportionally.
None of the middle fifths of America’s households, in contrast, gave away as much as 3 percent of their incomes.
Did this surprise you? It didn’t me — at least, not after I thought about it for a moment. It’s the identification thing. The more affluent one is, the more likely one is to think of the poor as the “other,” to think of poverty as “a way you’ll never be.” This can lead one to think there must be something wrong with the poor on a moral level — that they’re lazy and just don’t try or whatever.
Not that I’m a paragon of sensitivity or anything, but I’ve never had that attitude, mainly because God blessed me with a tendency toward depression. He’s given me a taste of what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the challenges before me. Just a taste, mind you — I always manage to cope, and have never had that crippling kind of despondency that keeps people in their beds. But I’ve seen through that door, and I can easily see how dysfunctional I’d be if I’d never been successful at anything, had no education, no home, no real prospects. In fact, it causes me to marvel that people who are down and out manage to do ANYTHING, as so very many do.
So I didn’t really need to get laid off to see into the abyss, but now that I’ve had THAT experience, and am still having that experience — no permanent, full-time job with benefits at hand yet — I’m less likely than ever to be dismissive of the plight of the poor.
That AP story raised another interesting explanation for the relative generosity of the poor:
Herbert Smith, 31, a Seventh-day Adventist who said he tithed his $1,010 monthly disability check — giving away 10 percent of it — thought that poor people give more because, in some ways, they worry less about their money.
“We’re not scared of poverty the way rich people are,” he said. “We know how to get the lights back on when we can’t pay the electric bill.”
Now there’s an instance in which I do suffer from a malady of the bourgeois: I do have that middle-class horror of not being able to pay the bills. The prospect, which gets closer each day that I don’t have a steady job, is more than a little appalling. There’s that middle-class voice in my head that goes, “The electricity turned off? OHmyGod, NO!” Whereas Herbert takes it in stride, and keeps on giving.
Which ought to teach us something.