Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Rich Are Giving More ... To Themselves

Call it a sign of the times. As the chasm between rich and poor yawns wider and wider, with the folks in the middle for the most part falling, certain institutional realities have taken hold. The New York Times reported earlier this month that private cash is setting the agenda for urban infrastructure. Apparently, as our bridges and roads and such are crumbling because government has gone broke with war and handing bundles of unmarked bills to the rich, institutions like Yale are flush with cash and spending like drunken Ivy league frat boys.
The message in this outburst of activity, here and in other places across the country, is that private spending, supported handsomely by a growing number of very wealthy families, is gaining ground on traditional public investment. In the case of New Haven, once the recipient of more federal dollars per person for urban renewal than any other city, private investment now far surpasses public outlays.

“For us,” the mayor said, “infrastructure spending has come to mean growing the university. Yale has the money, and what they get from us is the approval to grow.”...

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that government should be spending $320 billion a year over the next five years — double the current outlay — just to bring up to par what already exists.

Meanwhile, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports the following:
Even as many wealthy nonprofit institutions — like museums and universities — are reporting record increases in contributions, other charities, especially those that provide direct services to the poor, are struggling to get donations and keep up with rapidly escalating demands for aid. Some veteran leaders of organizations that serve the needy say they have not faced such a tough time before in their nonprofit careers.
Why? Well, as it turns out, most people aren't doing so well, and the people who are tend to give to their own.
“There are two tiers of income, and donors are in one tier or the other,” says Melissa S. Brown, associate director of research at Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. “Charities with donors in the top tier see big increases, and nonprofits whose donors are squeezed by lost income are feeling the pain.” ...

Colleges, hospitals, arts organizations, community foundations, and other wealthy institutions have in the past decade built their endowments and reserves to insulate themselves from economic fluctuations. In addition, such organizations have been hiring many new fund raisers to focus exclusively on seeking big gifts from wealthy people.

And wealthy donors overwhelmingly prefer those types of institutions: A study released this month of more than 8,000 gifts of $1-million or more to 4,000 nonprofit organizations found that the largest share of those dollars, 44 percent, went to higher education, followed by hospitals and other medical institutions (16 percent), and arts and cultural organizations (12 percent). Social-service groups received just 5 percent of the dollars, according to the study by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.

A bit further down in the article comes this news from LA on how the homeless are doing.

Other charities in Los Angeles are facing an even tougher time. Beyond Shelter, a Los Angeles charity that has focused on moving homeless families out of emergency shelters and into permanent homes, is struggling to meet payroll next month while trying to help a homeless population that has exploded in size in the past two years, according to Tanya Tull, the charity’s president.

Ms. Tull says she has watched government support decline, while foundations that provided support in the past are making smaller and smaller grants to her charity because they are deluged with requests from other social-service groups.

“Every agency we speak to is turning families away, and the shelters have been full all year,” she says. “I am seeing families with children sleeping in their cars, riding the bus all night, sitting in fast-food restaurants, just to have a place to be. This is a very, very sad thing to experience, after so many years when we thought we were getting a handle on the problem.”

In her 25 years of working with the homeless, Ms. Tull says, “this is the worst I have ever seen in terms of the numbers of homeless families and the fact that the safety net is gone.”

What's this? I recently read that Los Angeles has halved their downtown homeless problem through a creepy combination of repressive policing and high-tech legerdemain. I guess that stuff doesn't really work. Oh, wait, she's talking about homeless families. They don't count.

The rich are having a big party, and we get to come and eat cake. No wait ... the cake's all gone. All they're serving now is crumbs.

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