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Figure 1.

The line at the back of this chart shows per capita, or per person, income, a measure that takes into account changes in household size over this period. We're also looking at disposable personal income, or income after taxes, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Income was going up in the 1920s. Then there was the drop during the Great Depression, followed by an artificial high in World War II. Since about 1950, a new phenomenon occurred. For the first time in history in some societies, including the U.S., the majority of people now had more money than was needed for basic needs, and the poor became a minority.

Giving has not kept up with income, however. Protestant denominations have published data on an ongoing basis throughout the century. In 1916, Protestants were giving 2.9% of their incomes to their churches. In 1933, the depth of the Great Depression, it was 3.2%. In 1955, just after affluence began spreading through our culture, it was still 3.2%. By 2007, when Americans were over 582% richer, after taxes and inflation, than in the Great Depression, Protestants were giving 2.5% of their incomes to their churches.

Both income and giving were going up in the 1920s. Giving was routinely above 3% during this period through 1933. Giving as a portion of income fell below 3% in 1934 and was low through World War II. Then both giving and incomes recovered after World War II. Giving as a portion of income rose to above 3% from 1958 and stayed there through 1962, when it began a prolonged decline. The decline in giving as a percentage of income that began in the 1960's is not like the decline that began in 1934. The Great Depression and World War II help to explain the downturn in giving in the mid-1930s. No such national disasters help to explain the decline in giving since the 1960s.




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