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EDITORIAL: Tough economy exacerbates charities' needs

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IBJ Editorial

Recent economic times have been tough on many Americans. But those who already were suffering most often have taken the hardest blows.

A stream of news reports in recent days has hammered home that point.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than 44 million Americans—and more than 1 million people in Indiana—lived in poverty last year.

Those are big numbers—and are all the more striking when you consider the low bar the government sets for defining poverty. It says a family of four is impoverished only if it earns less than $22,050.

The proportion of Indiana residents living in poverty jumped from 12.9 percent in 2008 to an estimated 16.1 percent last year. Nationally, the rate rose to 14 percent—the highest in 15 years.

Another study, by the College Board, found the gap widening between those earning a college degree and those with only a high school diploma. The median earnings of full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees was $55,700 in 2008—$21,900 more than those with just high school diplomas.

Things are tough all over, of course. And many white- collar professionals who’ve lost jobs during the recession are working for less money now, if they’ve found new employment at all.

But the data about society’s most vulnerable are worth pondering as United Way of Central Indiana rolls out its annual fundraising campaign.

It’s hard to imagine a charitable organization better suited for these times. “United Way of Central Indiana helps sustain vital human services for those who need help most while reducing such needs for future generations,” its mission statement reads.

United Way sets priorities based on its own independent research and provides support to more than 100 human-service agencies in Indianapolis and five other counties.

And it’s one efficient organization. That’s partly because, since 1998, UWCI has been able to offset a portion of its fundraising and overhead costs by using earnings on an endowment created with a $50 million gift from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Indianapolis has many other charitable organizations also worthy of support, of course. But donors can’t be experts on everything. United Way doesn’t just ferret out human-service organizations most deserving of support. It holds them accountable, ensuring they use the grants they receive well.

As bleak as the economy has been in recent years, many residents of central Indiana still have good jobs with solid incomes. But the region never will reach its potential if it is allowed to become a two-tiered community of haves and have-nots.

We urge residents to give what they can to help United Way reach its goal of $41 million—$2.2 million more than last year’s campaign raised. It’s an ambitious goal in these difficult times. Let’s help United Way achieve it.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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