Home can be a lonely place, especially when single, working remotely, and locked down around the clock in a 300-square-foot studio apartment, as numerous friends and I were during the height of the pandemic. Feelings of loneliness, however, existed even before COVID-19 spread.
To combat these feelings of loneliness and isolation, it’s important to reconnect Americans with their community—to give everyone a sense of purpose and an avenue to give back to their community. For many, though, giving to charity or volunteering is aspirational. Giving Tuesday presents a chance for policymakers to help more Americans pay it forward.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that self-reported loneliness spiked as the share of single-person households, nearly one in three, also spiked. Contributing to this self-reporting is that, according to the Census Bureau, the share of single-family homes has risen dramatically since the 1960s.
Half of Americans who made under $100,000 in 2019 reported being lonely. That share grows as income shrinks. For example, 64 percent of Americans who made less than $50,000 in 2019 reported being lonely while 77 percent making less than $25,000 reported the same.
The numbers make sense. People like to bring something to the table. Overextended millennials and members of "Gen Z" aren't going to attend church, volunteer, or join a social club if they're unable to bring something to the table or if they’re in the red financially.
There is, however, an opportunity to change this mindset. Policymakers can encourage more charitable investment if some key provisions of the CARES Act are extended, enhanced and made more inclusive.
One way Congress could help rehabilitate lonely Americans is to enhance and make permanent the $300 charitable tax deduction enacted as part of the CARES Act, more commonly referred to as the COVID-19 relief bill, as such a move would encourage Americans to fill empty pews and get involved in their community again.
An enhanced, permanent charitable-tax deduction regardless of whether a person itemizes their tax deductions would give lower-income and cash-strapped taxpayers an easier opportunity to invest in their spiritual and mental health and an added benefit for spending money on a friend, relative or neighbor. It’s a perfect way to celebrate Giving Tuesday and make a difference.
What’s more, as part of the congressional action to extend CARES Act provisions, legislators should make contributions to donor-advised funds eligible under this enhanced deduction. This way the strategic financial tool is more accessible to lower-income taxpayers, who could then use donor-advised funds to create an even bigger impact with their giving.
For example, even a $2,400 charitable tax deduction for non-itemizers would go a long way toward encouraging people to donate resources to a local soup kitchen, place of worship, diaper bank—the list goes on. It’s the sort of triage needed to heal the pandemic’s hidden scars.
Making permanent the special $300 charitable tax deduction for individuals implemented last year as part of the COVID-19 relief bill is a step in the right direction. However, it’s critical the deduction is enhanced, especially to help single, non-itemizers struggling to makes ends meet.
This deduction is particularly important for single-person households, as it would serve as a way to help them plug into and hasten the milestones typical of the American dream. Costs are rising, and the single, low- to middle-income earner is too often overlooked in society.
Regardless of their financial circumstances, Americans could contribute with confidence knowing they have charitable cash to spend vis-à-vis a charitable tax deduction. What’s more, religious institutions would be encouraged to earn and maintain the trust of younger members.
Not only would this help resolve Americans’ loneliness problem, it also creates a more diverse and representative philanthropic community and give people something to live for apart from the daily routine of making rent from one paycheck to the next.
The lost, lonely young man forgoing college because of its overwhelming cost might volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and uncover a love for carpentry; he might even land a job or open his own shop one day.
Lonely hearts could meet their match in real life, apart from the facade of addictive apps and social-media platforms that exacerbate the myriad of emotional and mental-health crises many are experiencing because of social media and the pandemic.
People need connections to flourish. Now that more than half of Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s time for lawmakers to adopt policies that will encourage people to emerge from isolation, heal and embrace a full, vibrant life full of friends and family. What better way to mark Giving Tuesday than allowing everyone to make a difference?
Carolyn Bolton is communications and marketing manager for DonorsTrust, a mission-focused donor-advised-fund provider, and a former newspaper reporter. She lives in northern Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @carbolton.