When it comes to where our paycheck goes, we all have financial priorities. Once the bills are paid, however, many of us will donate some of our money to the broader community.
For most, giving is an important part of our value system. Whether it is money, time, or energy, we believe that our community is better off when we invest in it. A few dollars to a non-profit might work, or maybe a donation to a local religious organization (which is currently considered charity). With such a tremendous amount of need in the world, you might wish you could do more.
What if you could? What if you had the choice of being a philanthropist in your own right?
A recent NPR article indicates that given the opportunity to donate more, we won’t, especially those in Boston and Providence. Pam Fessler writes, “It turns out lower-income people tend to donate a much bigger share of their discretionary incomes than wealthier people do.” Paul Piff, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkley adds, “The more wealth you have, the more focused on your own self and your own needs you become, and the less attuned to the needs of other people you also become.”
I see you jumping up and down at your computer, screaming, “but I make a good living and I care about people!” You may very well care about people and it’s great that you’re successful. But think about what that higher income buys you. Think about how it might affect your decisions about charity.
If you get a higher paying job, you might move your family to a new neighborhood where all the houses are big and look eerily alike. Typically they’ll have bigger yards, bigger garages, and fewer, whiter neighbors. The school your kids go to will likely be a bit homogenous too. The friends they make will come from families in roughly the same income bracket. The men and women you work with, they’ll be more like you than not. And no matter how compassionate you are for those that struggle, you frankly won’t be reminded of them as much anymore.
The result is that when you’re divvying up your paycheck, your heart strings won’t get pulled. You might transfer some money into savings, into retirement, into paying down a mortgage that will happily gobble up your cash. But as Piff suggests, the more people have, the more they want to keep for themselves. If this is you, you’re not alone. It remains the great conundrum of the middle class, those making at least over $50,000 a year. Even though they may intimately know the struggle of those making less, they’ve tasted some freedom from financial worries and they like it. They’ve got a little more influence in their community and they like that too. It’s theirs. They worked hard for it. They’re not just going to give it away.
Yet, that’s exactly what lower-income families are doing. They see the plight of those around them every day and they care more. They have less to horde and so they give more freely. And they exemplify the values of charity and compassion for those in need that we ought to aspire to.
You worked hard for your money, great. Now what are you going to do with it?