There is belt-tightening across the nation. Sales at retail stores dropped in November, and sellers are bracing themselves for a paltry Christmas season. The reasons are obvious. The unprecedented decline in stock market and home values has eaten away at families' savings. Companies are laying off workers and cutting back their hours. People are rationally responding by cutting back to preserve what they have.
Charitable organizations are feeling the effects of the economic downturn, too. A recent news story entitled "Giving season struggles to earn its name" lamented that this year's charitable giving total is unlikely to top last year's total of $306 billion. It will be only the second time in 40 years that charitable giving failed to grow from one year to the next.
Yet there is a very "glass half-full" way of looking at the statistics: Americans' ongoing willingness to give, even as their household wealth shrinks by trillions of dollars, is testimony to the true generosity of our citizens.
Americans don't just lead the world in terms of total dollars donated, but also when giving is measured as a percentage of gross domestic product. In 2005, private giving in the United States was 1.67 percent of GDP, more than twice the next most charitable country, the United Kingdom, which gave away just 0.73 percent of its GDP.
It is not just those who work for charities but each person who donates to one of those organizations, or volunteers there, who are involved in making their community a better place. The personal involvement-the decision to give away part of your income, your time, indeed your life-is itself a moral good.
Americans instinctively must know this. That's why, even in lean years, the country continues to serve as a model of goodwill and charity for the rest of the world.
Carrie Lukas is vice president of domestic and economic policy at the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Women's Forum and a Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow. A version of this article originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report.
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