Since 2009, a rising economic tide has mainly lifted yachts. During the recovery, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. Both in terms of incomes and wealth, the rich got richer. Meanwhile, the poor and middle class either saw their earnings and wealth stagnate or fall off.
And yet amidst all that, something odd happened. Even during the downturn and recovery, the poorest Americans upped their charitable giving. Meanwhile, the highest-income people gave less and less, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in October.
The rich also give to charity differently than the poor: compared to lower-income Americans, the rich’s charitable giving places a far lower emphasis on helping their disadvantaged peers. When the poor and rich are (figuratively and literally) moving farther apart, an empathy gap naturally opens up between the upper and lower classes — after all, if I can’t see you, I’m less likely to help you.
Taken together, the trends paint a disturbing picture for the future of both the American economy and philanthropy: as the rich get richer and more removed from the daily lives of the poor, the bulk of charitable giving is also likely to become further removed from the needs of the poor.
The empathy gap is evident in governing, too. Remember how the first round of Arkansas income tax cuts pointedly left out the very poorest Arkansas workers. This seemed to be based in the belief that they were beneficiaries of government riches and needed only to work harder to be better off. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, to his credit, has demonstrated a willingness to consider the least among us in his latest income tax cut proposal, though it is meeting heavy resistance from some in the legislature who think a better approach would be cuts at the top end of the income scale.
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