Charity and volunteerism will pick up the slack and supply a reliable safety net, it is reasoned, for those who can't find jobs, pay to see a doctor, buy food for their children or afford rent after federal dollars are tightened or transferred for distribution by the states.
So say congressional Republicans who strongly support the "contract with America" and insist that less government is best. They advocate less federal involvement in programs--medical, education, welfare, environmental, regulatory--developed to help the less well-off, including the poor, the disabled, the unwell and the elderly.
There's only one problem: It can't work. So says Julian Wolpert, Bryant Professor at Princeton University and chairman of the research committee of the Independent Sector, the leading organization of charities in the United States. As one of the nation's most respected experts on patterns of philanthropic giving--who gives where, how much or how little, and why--Wolpert is author of a landmark study, "Patterns of Generosity in America," comparing charitable giving patterns in America's 85 largest metropolises.
The hard facts of charity are: Half of all private giving goes to churches and synagogues for basic upkeep. Little to none transfers, Robin Hood-like, from rich to needy. And that which does, through specific programs, is largely attributable to federal grants.
The profile for Los Angeles is particularly unsettling. The city ranked near the bottom of all U.S. cities in per-capita giving, while ranking near the top of major urban centers for the proportion of those living below the poverty level.
By 2002, according to Wolpert, the prognosis for starvation, homelessness, illness and death in Los Angeles County--in numbers not seen since the Great Depression--will worsen because of the effects of a closed federal spigot.
Wolpert, 62, who testified before Congress earlier this year about proposed budget cuts, spoke from his home in Princeton, N.J., about what his study revealed about Los Angeles; his concerns about the fallacies of the "contract with America" and how it ignores the inability of the private sector and nonprofits to maintain services being eliminated or reduced by the government.
Question: Your study revealed Los Angeles as one of the least generous cities in the country. Does that surprise you?
Answer: No, not if you look at the broader patterns of the study. Smaller towns were more generous than large, industrial cities were more generous than Sun Belt communities, liberal cities were more generous than conservative.
Q: Why is per-capita giving in Los Angeles at the bottom of the charts?
A: It would really take exhaustive research, or at least a substantial case-study analysis within L.A., but my speculation is that as one of the newer metropolitan areas of the U.S., it didn't have that great philanthropic tradition that developed in so many of the Eastern cities--as well as in San Francisco--in the 18th and into the 19th centuries. So it missed that stage of great local philanthropists, who felt some civic loyalty to the community. Also, L.A.--and again this is speculative--is a city consisting of a lot of small communities that aren't well integrated. There's a severe fragmentation in the L.A. area, which probably contributes to somewhat lower levels of giving.
Q: Your study revealed that pattern among Sun Belt cities. Why is that?
A: It's very possible there hasn't been the buildup of civic loyalty, a strong civic pride as a metropolitan area--which is true of many Sun Belt cities. It's partly the greater mobility. There hasn't devel- oped a culture of giving, of civic responsibility. People don't feel connected, loyal to the city. It's more transitory, not as connected to its soul.
Q: But San Francisco is near the top of the list. Why?
A: L.A. is politically more conservative. Conservatives give less than liberals. There is, perhaps, less of a centralized civic life in L.A. than in San Francisco. I think this is probably reflected in people's loyalty to institutions and willingness to support them. I think that is present in the Bay Area to a higher degree than in Southern California.
Q: Which California communities does L.A. most resemble in its charitable giving
A: The pattern of L.A. was relatively similar to San Diego and in Orange County and in some of the metropolitan areas of the Valley. Also, San Jose. At least that's what the data showed.
Q: What other factors would contribute to these low numbers for L.A.?