Carpe Diem

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

Year Bidens’ AGI Bidens’ Charity Average Gifts for Bidens’ AGI (est.) Average Gifts, Income < $5,000 Average Gifts, Income  $100-200k Average Gifts, income  $200-$500k
1998 $215,432 $195 $5,315 $569 $3,623 $8,570
1999 $219,797 $120 $5,559 $690 $3,716 $8,447
2000 $219,953 $360 $5,559 $713 $3,756 $8,245
2001 $220,712 $360 $5,559 $767 $3,767 $8,253
2002 $227,811 $260 $5,803 $729 $3,872 $8,641
2003 $231,375 $260 $5,803 $828 $4,031 $8,762
2004 $234,271 $380 $5,803 $796 $4,143 $8,682
2005 $321,379 $380 $8,015 $733 $4,080 $8,257
2006 $248,859 $380 $6,287 $767 $3,899 $7,863
2007 $319,853 $995 $8,015 $729 $3,815 $7,721
2008 $269,256 $1,885 $6,769 $154 $3,780 $7,648
2009 $330,000 $4,820 $8,269 $725 $3,904 $7,560
2010 $379,178 $5,350 $9,544 $729 $3,863 $5,938
2011 $379,035 $5,540 $9,544
2012 $385,072 $7,190 $9,672

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.

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

  1. Guess Biden was out illegally blasting his shotgun off the front porch all those times Obama was scolding the nation how we are our “brother’s keeper.” (Somebody tell that to George Obama.) Speaking of that biblically out-of-context quote, Revered Wright’s daughter is heading to the slammer for milking funds out of a charity she ran. The charity name is… “We Are Our Brother’s Keeper.”

    What an excellent crew for demonstrating the true nature of liberal compassion.

  2. Dr. Perry, your projections of the “Average Charity for Bidens’ AGI” are silly and misleading. You used the exact same approx. 2.5% rate for EVERY YEAR, based solely on calculations made by Forbes staffer William Baldwin, which were based on data for a SINGLE TAX YEAR – 2008.

  3. Dr. Perry, thank you for updating your post. Accuracy is important.

    Further points: Your repeated references and link to “IRS data for tax year 2010 via Forbes” takes one to the same Forbes.com post by Forbes staffer William Baldwin, who wrote “The published IRS statistics are for the 2008 tax year,” NOT for 2010.

    Secondly, your headline “Vice-President Biden is becoming a lot more generous than Senator Biden, but is still 25% below average for his income” is also inaccurate in that the Bidens filed joint income tax returns, and BOTH VP Biden and Dr. Jill Biden reported income, including Dr. Biden’s 2012 earnings of over $82K from Northern Virginia Community College. Therefore, their income is not solely “his income”.

    Again, thank you for updating your post.

  4. The important thing to note is that they gave to charity, they didn’t donate their extra money to government. As this page notes:
    http://www.politicsdebunked.com/government-fails-the-poor
    “If you wish to help people: you donate to a charity, you don’t give extra money to the government. Last year president Obama gave more money to private charities than he paid in federal income tax. Even the head of our government felt it was better to give his money to charities than to the government he manages. ”

    As that page details, government does a poor job of helping people, Census data on poverty shows it spends a few times as much on anti-poverty programs as it would cost to simply give everyone a check to bring them above the poverty level. A better approach would be to introduce competition into the system by making charity a tax credit to force government to compete for your money, similar to the intent of a school voucher. Variations on that theme on that page.

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