Bidens are becoming more charitable over time – they used to give less to charity than Americans making less than $5,000

Article Highlights

  • Now that Biden’s tax returns are under public scrutiny, he and Jill Biden seem to be feeling a bit more charitable.

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  • In the 1990s, the Bidens made more than $200,000 in each year, and yet they donated less than $200 annually to charity.

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  • Taxpayers making $215,000 in 1999 donated 2.53% of their AGI to charity. The Bidens gave 1/19th of 1% of their income.

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Bidens are becoming more charitable over time – they used to give less to charity than Americans making less than $5,000

The Obamas and the Bidens released their 2012 tax returns on the White House blog today. Jill and Joe Biden reported $385,072 in adjusted gross income (AGI) for last year, on which they paid $87,851 in federal income taxes; and they deducted $7,190 for charitable gifts. The table above shows the Bidens' 15-year history of AGI and charitable gifts, and the average charitable gifts for AGI amounts comparable to the Bidens, according to IRS data for tax year 2008 via Forbes (Update: The detailed charitable gift data provided by Forbes for each $5,000 income bracket in 2008 are not available for other years, so those donation amounts by income level in 2008 are used to estimate the "Average Gifts for Bidens' AGI" in all years between 1998 and 2012.)

Now that Vice-President Biden's tax returns are coming under public scrutiny, he and Dr. Jill Biden seem to be feeling a bit more charitable than the former, rather uncharitable Senator Joe Biden, whose tax returns probably received little attention, if they were even released at all.  For example, back in 1998 and 1999, Senator and Jill Biden made more than $200,000 in each year, putting them almost in the vilified "top 1%" of Americans by income, and yet they donated less than $200 annually to charity, or less than $4 per week. That compares to average charitable giving of more than $5,000 per year for taxpayers reporting the same AGI as the Bidens in those years (estimated). On average, it's estimated that taxpayers making $215,000 in 1999 donated 2.53% of their AGI to charity in 1999, compared to the Bidens, who donated only about 1/19th of 1% of their income to charity that year.

The Bidens are feeling a little more charitable of late, but the $7,190 they gave last year to charity was 25% less than the estimated $9,672 average contribution for taxpayers in their income category.  But they're making progress..... In 1999, they were 98% less charitable than average for their income group. Or we could probably say that the Bidens were in about the top 2% of the country by income in 1999, but probably in about the bottom 2% by charitable giving.

Update: The table above has been updated in response to a comment by Hennorama, who criticized using the charitable giving by income groups for a single year - 2008 - for the other years in the table. As explained above, the detailed charitable gift data for each $5,000 increment of AGI are not available for other years, so I used those data to estimate the third column above "Average Gifts for Bidens' AGI" and now note that those are estimates. But the additional IRS data on charitable giving (Table 2.1) now presented in the table in the last three columns for charitable giving for three income groups (Less than $5,000, $100,000-200.000 and $200,000-500,000) strengthens the basic premise that the charitable giving of Senator Biden and his wife was much less generous than Vice-President and Jill Biden.  For example:

1. Between 1998 and 2006, the Bidens had income above $200,000 in every year (and above $300,000 in 2005), putting them either in the top 1% or very close to the top 1% of Americans by income. And yet the Bidens' charitable giving in those years was less than the average charitable giving for the lowest income category - Americans making less than $5,000! In 1999, the average charitable gift of $690 for Americans earning less than $5,000 was almost six times greater than the $120 in charity given by the Bidens in that year.  

2. In 2007 ($319,850 in income) and 2008 ($269,250), when the Bidens' income almost qualified them for being in the top 1%, their charitable giving finally exceeded the average charitable gifts of Americans making less than $5,000 for the first time in a decade, but was still below the average charitable giving for Americans in the income category below them - $100,000 to $200,000.

3. Once Joe Biden became Vice-President in 2009, the Bidens suddenly started becoming in more generous, possibly because they knew their tax returns would become public every year.  But even in 2010, the last and only year for which we have detailed data on charitable giving by income levels in $5,000 increments, the Bidens gave 44% less to charity than the average giving for their income.

Bottom Line: The Bidens' charitable giving has evolved over time, from being less generous between 1998 and 2006 - when their income exceeded $200,000 - than the lowest-income Americans making less than $5,000, to becoming only about 25% less generous last year (estimated) than the average taxpayer in their income group.

 

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About the Author

 

Mark J.
Perry
  • Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan's Flint campus. He is best known as the creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. At AEI, Perry writes about economic and financial issues for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

    Follow Mark Perry on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202.419.5207
    Email: mark.perry@aei.org

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