In hard times and good times, the United Way of Central Maryland perseveres -- providing the funding for the dozens of volunteer organizations and activities that make this area a better place to live. But in hard times the annual United Way campaign takes on special importance, and during previous recessions -- such as 1982 and 1974 -- donors rose to the challenge. This year presents special cause for worry, since the current recession has affected white collar workers far more than other economic slumps. White collar employees have long been the backbone of United Way's workplace pledge campaigns.
To cite one example: Each year the Westinghouse Electronics Systems Group in Linthicum is one of the top contributors to the local campaign, raising more than $2.46 million last year. But in February, the company laid off 1,200 workers after the Navy canceled its A-12 Stealth program. As a result, this year the company's United Way goal is $250,000 lower than 1990's.
Choosing realism over an unreachable goal, the campaign's leaders have set a goal this year of $33.2 million, only a 4 percent increase over last year's donations. That goal is considerably more modest than those of previous campaigns, which in recent years usually represented a 10 percent increase over the previous year. But an economic scan of the region convinced the leadership that the employment picture simply wouldn't support such an ambitious goal.
It's a curious aspect of human nature that those who have the least to give are often the most generous toward others, and that during hard times those who can give often reach deeper into their pockets than they do when the economy is booming. Whatever motivates generosity, let us hope that it prevails throughout the companies where pledge campaigns are now in full swing. The success of those campaigns -- which depends on the generosity of thousands of individual workers -- will make a vast difference in many hundreds of thousands of lives in the year to come.