Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $1.8 billion donation to Johns Hopkins University has made headlines for its sheer size — it’s the biggest gift ever to a single institution.

The money, to be used for financial aid, will let the school open its doors to qualified students who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend. But to some the donation is a symptom of a troubling trend in American philanthropy.

Charitable giving is becoming increasingly top-heavy, with megadonations like Bloomberg’s and the $2 billion that Amazon AMZN, -0.97% founder and CEO Jeff Bezos recently announced to fight homelessness and improve early education becoming more frequent, and increasingly setting the agenda for America’s nonprofits.

‘It’s almost like a dangerous distraction to keep thinking that the billionaires are going to solve our problems.’

Chuck Collins, Institute for Policy Studies

Those donations are, of course, a good thing on their face — more money going to worthy causes — but to many observers they’re the latest examples of a how income inequality has affected charitable giving. Even though Americans gave a record amount of money to charity last year ($410.2 billion, up 5.2% on the year before) that giving was lopsided, according to a report released Monday by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive Washington, D.C., think tank.

“These giant megagifts mask the fundamental, underlying problem, which is that donations by low- and middle-income givers are steadily going down, and almost all the growth in giving is at the very top,” said Chuck Collins, a co-author of the IPS report.

In the early 2000s, households earning $200,000 or more made up only 30% of all charitable-giving tax deductions. In 2017, those households accounted for 52%, IPS found.

Here’s why it matters that a lower percentage of middle-income people are giving to charity:

 

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