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Is the U.S. becoming less charitable?

A brief analysis of tax returns

One may not feel very charitable while filing a tax return, but FRED data can at least help you understand something about charity in this country. The Internal Revenue Service provides some interesting statistics on how tax returns use various line items. The graph above shows two line items that can be linked to charity.

The first is deductible charitable contributions, which have declined since the mid 2000s, despite an increase along the way. Not everyone, though, can take advantage of these deductions, as taking standard deductions may be more advantageous. The second line item is the check box that asks whether you want to contribute a few dollars to the presidential election campaign. That item has been on an even more precipitous decline, independent of the political flavor of the president in office at the time. But with a little more than 4% of returns currently opting to make that contribution, this isn’t likely to be a meaningful indicator of philanthropic spirit.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for “tax returns”—which will provide plenty of interesting choices. Check the ones you want and click on “Add to Graph.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: IMZDCTC, RTNPECFC

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