In my next collection of short stories—Mending, due out this fall—a desperate and terrible old man, Benjamin, misquotes a sentence from the Gospels: “The poor are always with you.” The actual words of Jesus are “the poor are always with us.”
This morning as I was reading a report from the PBS show, “To the Contrary,” I thought of Benjamin’s mistake. The report, on “Women and Philanthropy: Sharing the Wealth” lists statistics that horrify but do not surprise me.
In the U.S. today, women over eighteen (certainly largely white women) “control about half the investment wealth of the United States; forty-three percent of stock portfolios valued over fifty thousand, and forty five percent of investments in other markets.” This despite disparities in income between men and women that persist and persist and persist.
These are not the facts that horrify me.
I have thought in the past that when the wealth disparity between privileged men and privileged women decreases (IRS loopholes and brilliant accountants are part of the cause), the dismal poverty statistics for women in this country would change.
That is not the case.
“Most survey respondents said they believe that children and the poor should receive charitable contributions, but only three percent believe more charitable funds should go to women. Yet a report released in 1997 reveals that sixty-six percent of the country’s poor adults are women.”
Why am I horrified but not surprised by this report? Because over twenty-five years, mercifully brought to an end, of giving to “charity,” I’ve come to realize two unpalatable facts:
- Most women who control large amounts of money have modeled their giving on the familiar male model; they give to sanctioned social institutions, operas and symphonies, museums and Ivy League colleges, which are of little or no benefit to poor women.
- Many rich women have no contact with the world outside of the high walls of privilege. Why, then, would anyone expect them to give money to the millions of women who are invisible to them?
- With money, inherited or earned, women enter the ranks of the powerful, and the fact that we are women is much less important than that inclusion; it means we will never oppose war, because war is the playground of the powerful. Nor will we support any institution that questions our culture, whether it is radical theatre, upstart politicians, attempts to rein in the depredations of the pharmaceutical companies, or gross inequities in the country’s taxation plan.
Another aspect of the charity racket is the incredible growth in foundations, both private and public, mainly as tax saving dodges. According to this report, “the nonprofit sector accounts for eight percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product AND EMPLOYS NEARLY TEN PERCENT OF THE WORK FORCE—MORE THAN FEDERAL AND STATE GOVERNMENTS COMBINED.”
What are all these people doing?
If their work was effective, surely we would see the results; but poverty in this country continues to increase, along with the number of people on disability (primarily due to the great increase in drugging mental patients, which renders them unable to work), the evils of racism, desperately poor public education, and on and on and on as the very rich increase their profits and the rest of the country declines.
The absurdly low rate, fixed decades ago by the IRS, that allows foundations to use ninety-seven percent of the income from their donations and investments to run their offices and pay their staffs is a glaring misuse of the term “nonprofit.”
In fact the untaxed money these foundations spend is largely spent on the inhabitants of those foundations, who might be compared to mice living happily in a huge chunk of cheese.
Only the parings go to the poor.
My character Benjamin’s misquote is applicable to this despicable situation: the poor are always with you, but they are never with us.
Photo by Martha Tabor