Hard-pressed charities need our help

Our charitable organizations need our help. The vast majority of them have become very efficient, well-administered organizations, but they are faced with an almost impossible situation.

It is difficult to do your job when you are faced with a flood of new clients, fewer contributions from foundations and individuals, and reduced government funding at all levels.

These organizations are being overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy caused by the economic crisis.

Listening to the discussion and debate about the health of our economy, it seems like there is little real understanding of the plight of millions of Americans who are suffering like they never have before. The buck stops with these organizations that have to deal with the human results of the Great Recession.

We talk about the lost jobs, but it is hard to appreciate the size and significance of what has been happening.

The first factor is that so many people are in trouble; many have tumbled from the middle class to poverty.

Here are just a few statistics to demonstrate the historic size of the problem.

The employment-to-population ratio for all Americans from 2007-2010 dropped faster than for any similar period since the government began tracking the data in 1948.

Only slightly over half of young adults between 16 and 29 are working — down from over two-thirds in 2000; it’s the lowest since the end of World War II.

Those age 65 and older are having to give up on retirement. About 1 in 6 are now working and delaying their retirement — the highest level since the 1960s.

Finally, more than 46 million Americans are living in poverty, and the details, if possible, are even worse. Of these, more than 26 million are children under the age of 18.

All of this ends up at the door of the charitable organizations who are trying to help the individuals and families with very difficult problems.

Over the years, they have learned how to deal with all kinds of people with all kinds of problems, but it is difficult when a flood of new people in need shows up, in many cases as a last resort.

The second part of the problem is that while their numbers of clients are increasing, their funding from private sources is shrinking. The Giving USA Foundation says, “Our revised estimates show that 2008 and 2009 saw the largest drops in giving in more than 40 years as a result of the Great Recession, exceeding previous recession’s impact on giving.”

The final problem is the decline in their other major sources of funding from state, local and federal government.

The Great Recession has hit revenues at all levels of government and the resulting deficits have caused cut-backs in funds available to charitable organizations.

While things are stabilizing here in Delaware, the forecast for the federal government is truly grim. While the vast majority, over 80 percent, of federal government spending goes for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense spending, and interest on the debt, most of the recent cutting has hit the rest of the budget, which is called Domestic Discretionary.

Domestic Discretionary makes up less than 20 percent of the total federal budget and includes all funding for education, law enforcement, infrastructure, social services and all other domestic federal programs.

Even though it is relatively small, it has borne virtually all of the cuts projected in the 10-year “debt limit” deal and is being held hostage along with defense spending to receive more major cuts if the 12-member bipartisan congressional committee cannot come up with an alternative plan.

There is no doubt that the increase in clients, the decrease in philanthropy and the cuts in the federal government are causing a humanitarian disaster.

It is time for all of us, regardless of our political persuasion, to consider what we can do to help our charitable organizations survive this onslaught.

Maybe it is to volunteer or make a contribution, or call on your elected officials for help.

Americans who have fallen into poverty because of the recession deserve better.

Fortunately, we have many competent, well-organized charities ready to help.

They need your help.

Originally published 2 Oct 2011 on delawareonline.com