Are Americans Cheap? Or Charitable?

Do you give? Or are you cheap? I keep hearing that "Americans are cheap."

The New York Times asks in an editorial, "Are we cheap?"

"Yes," they say. Former President Carter recently said the rich states "don't give a damn" about people in poor countries. And when it comes to helping the needy in poor countries, U2 singer Bono says, "It's the crumbs off our tables that we offer these countries."

Crumbs because many other countries, such as Norway, Portugal and Japan, give a larger share of their wealth to needy countries.

The United States gave out $28 billion in foreign aid last year, but as a percentage of our wealth, we rank 20th out of the 22 major donor countries.

Actress Angelina Jolie is horrified by it.

"It's disgusting. It really is disgusting," she said. "I think most American people, you know, really do think we give more. And I know that they would if they could understand how little they give and how much more we can afford to give, absolutely, without even noticing it."

Generous Americans?

But wait a second. … When talking aid, why just talk about what the government gives?

Jolie could look to herself as an example of the generous American. She gives her time and her money to charities around the world. So do millions of other Americans. … America is not just our government. America is 300 million individuals, and their contributions far exceed what government gives.

America is anything but cheap.

Carol Adelman at the Hudson Institute has studied how much Americans give privately in foreign aid. She says it's a myth that Americans are stingy.

"We're one of the most generous people in the world, and that's because of our private philanthropy," she said.

Adelman published her findings in the institute's "Index of Global Philanthropy," which found that while the U.S. government gave about $28 billion in foreign aid in 2005, privately, Americans gave $33.5 billion.

On top of that, immigrants in America send about $62 billion abroad to family members and home towns. That's anything but stingy.

"Americans give abroad like they do domestically, through their private institutions," Adelman said.

After the tsunami three years ago, the U.S. government pledged approximately $900 million to relief efforts, but American individuals gave $2 billion in food, clothing and cash.

Many private charities could barely keep up with the donations.

'No Other Country Comes Close'

The fact that most of America's charitable gifts come from volunteers, not government, demonstrates that Americans are different from people in every other country.

"No other country comes close," said Arthur Brooks, a professor of public administration at Syracuse University. Brooks studies charitable giving and has a new book, "Who Really Cares: America's Charity Divide."

"The fact is that Americans give more than the citizens of any other country. … They also volunteer more," Brooks said. "Americans per capita individually give about three and a half times more money per year, than the French per capita. … Seven times more than the Germans and 14 times more than the Italians."

"Now, you might notice that these other countries have different average incomes or different tax systems," he said. "But even when you take that into account, Americans give 10 times more than the Italians. The fact is, that Americans give on a different scale than anybody else in the world."

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