It came as a surprise when a friend announced that his son met his (now) girlfriend at a small Catholic parish. It was a surprise because of the noticeable decline in church attendance that was only exacerbated by the negative impact of COVID-19 on social gatherings.
According to the Barna Group, a firm that tracks religious trends, in-person church attendance is anywhere from 30 to 50% lower than pre-pandemic, and 62% of churchgoers say they “altered, skipped or canceled major events and milestones” due to COVID-19.
While much has improved since the 2020 summer lockdowns, post-COVID life still looks unrecognizable compared to the pre-pandemic era. Many churches are still closed or held with half-empty services as churchgoers stream services.
In addition, restaurants struggle to serve their guests, as staff and food shortages drive up prices and downtown offices remain partially devoid of workers. All in all, young people suffer major delays to life’s milestones.
A small albeit simple step that could assist young people in making up ground lost during the pandemic would be to make permanent and enhance the $300 charitable tax deduction included in the CARES Act, which Congress enacted in 2020 as part of its COVID-19 relief package.
The deduction is particularly beneficial to lower-income Americans who don’t own real property and, therefore, don’t usually reap the benefits of itemizing tax deductions, like interest paid on a mortgage, out-of-pocket medical expenses or charitable donations.
Americans of all income levels want to help their neighbors. We saw this unfold during the pandemic, as first-time, small-dollar givers emerged and in some ways outperformed donors with deeper pockets. Americans want to uplift their communities and should have more opportunities to do so.
Making the $300 charitable tax deduction permanent and enhancing it would have a two-fold effect: It would put Americans in charge of rebuilding their pandemic-battered communities by funding worthy charities in a more efficient, intentional way, all while fostering connection.
Increasingly, Americans’ budgets aren’t stretching as far, as inflation outpaces wage growth, as gas has doubled in price over the last year and as the cost of groceries like bacon and sugar is up more than 25%. Charity naturally takes a back seat when Americans can’t afford the basics.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Americans need to reconnect with their communities — whether that means more involvement in a place of worship or within other nonprofit social and community-service organizations.
The comfort of knowing one has a deduction or charitable spending bucket, so to speak, would give people the confidence they need to plug into their communities — to put themselves out there again and to meet new people without having to choose between charity and a tank of gas.
As one study says, “Social connection is a pillar of lifestyle medicine. Humans are wired to connect, and this connection affects our health.”
A more compassionate tax code that allows for even more compassion — for ourselves and our neighbors — is long overdue.
After the ravages of COVID-19 on our social fabric, America needs a social reconstruction. Young people want to be a part of that. They also want to give. An above-the-line, permanent charitable tax deduction would certainly make some of that “giving” more than a mere good feeling. It also might encourage otherwise isolated and socially starved people to find community again through their charity.
Americans who take advantage of the deduction might even be able to gain ground on their unrealized milestones — like my friend’s son and his girlfriend. Who knows? Maybe this time next year, they’ll be walking down the aisle in the same Catholic parish where they first met.
• Lydia Pitea is assistant director of the Novus Society at DonorsTrust, a program that helps young philanthropists under 40 simplify, secure and maximize their charitable impact. Her views expressed here are her own and not necessarily that of her employer.
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