Wealth in America: its Concentration, and the Great Transfer

Research by John J. Havens and Paul G. Schervish at Boston College published in 1999 asserted there would be an immense surge of at least $41 trillion and as much as $136 trillion in wealth transfers over the next 50 years. The authors predicted charitable bequests of $1.7 trillion to $2.7 trillion from 1998-2017. Many nonprofits used the report entitled Millionaires and the Millennium: New Estimates of the Forthcoming Wealth Transfer and the Prospects for a Golden Age of Philanthropy to justify greater investment of money and staff time in gift planning programs.

Actual wealth transfers from 1999-2018 were well below their projections, but a 2018 report by The Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled $9 Trillion and Counting cites new research predicting that $9 trillion will be transferred between generations from 2018-2028.  This massive transfer will include the leading edge of the oldest Baby Boomers.  Estate transfers are projected to grow to $97 trillion by 2067.

The increasing concentration of accumulated wealth and annual income in America will have profound implications for charitable giving.  Real annual wages increased 40.1% for the average worker from 1979-2017, while wages for the top 10% increased 69.3%, the top 1% increased 157.3%, and the top 0.1% increased 343.2%.

Annual Wage Change Chart

Wage chart

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 seems to have accelerated the concentration of  wealth at the top.

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