foreign aid


Aid to developing nations is seen as a moral good by some and a foolhardy mission by others. Since the popular view is "Aid = Good", the US usually gets a lot of flack about its foreign aid record. But statistics commonly cited in the mainstream media don't always show the whole picture on how much the U.S. gives. Below we try to lay out the competing data – and let you decide how stingy or generous we are.

"Official Aid"

Since the most commonly used stats are "official" aid numbers from the OECD, the best place to start there. First off, an explanation of terms:

  • Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – The OECD is a group of 30 countries that aim to assist the world's developing countries. It helps about 70 nations – through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) and civil society.

  • Development Assistance Committee (DAC) – The DAC is a smaller club of 22 countries within OECD that are the major donors to the developing world. Since they represent the world's richest liberal democracies, it's usually these nations that the US gets compared to when looking
    at aid.

  • Official Developmental Assistance (ODA) – This is the official number that is usually looked at when comparing how much the rich countries give. It includes grants or loans to countries and territories that are part of the DAC list of aid recipients. It does NOT include military aid and/or private investment.

The official numbers

  • Total DAC aid - $80 billion OECD

  • Percentage of ODA the US contributes – 25% OECD

How much the rich nations gave - total $ in billions and as a % of their GDP

Non-"official" Aid

When you just look at ODA stats, the US doesn't exactly look like Daddy Warbucks – we give the smallest percentage of our national income (GDP) in "official aid" - 0.16% - in comparison to all other OECD nations (the OECD average is 0.42%).

Some say, though, when you look at non-official aid, America starts to look less cheap. ODA accounts for only 18% of all the money America gives to other nations – if you include private donations and other government assistance. See the graph below for the full breakdown. USAID

Total US assistance abroad - 2000 - out of $56 billion

note on the terms:
"individual remittances" is money typically immigrants send home to their communities. "other gov't assistance" includes military aid and aid to countries not on the DAC list.

Even more considerations

  • But, you ask, how much do other countries give in non-official foreign aid? Unfortunately, that's not clear – or at least we haven't found the stats. One study from Johns Hopkins University, however, does show that Americans give more donations in general – we give 1% of GDP to charities as compared to about 0.6% in the U.K. and 0.4% in the Netherlands (doesn't include donations to religious institutions). (Israel is the only other country that gives more in private donations – at 1.3% of GDP.) JHU There's no saying that means we give more in private money in foreign aid, but CJ thinks it's suggestive.

  • The Center for Global Development looks at many other factors – including investment, technology, trade and immigration – to calculate how much the US “gives back” to the world – and finds that the US ranks seventh of the top 21 DAC nations. CGD

  • US universities give $1.3 billion in foreign scholarships each year. Hudson

  • U.S. contributions to UN peacekeeping missions are 27% of the UN peacekeeping budget (about to go down to 25%). (WP) (The U.S. economy accounts for 23% of the world's economy (CIA))

Just for the record. We don't want to confuse you - so if you're happy with the OECD and US AID stats above, read no further - but believe it or not, there are other takes on how much the US gives in foreign aid. Here's the full gamut - from 2000.

  • From the US Census:

    • Total aid: $16.9 billion;

    • Economic aid: $11.7 billion;

      • In grants: $11.4 billion;

      • In loans: $0.3 billion;

    • Military aid: $5.2 billion (all in grants).

  • From OMB: authorized budget for international development and humanitarian assistance:

    • $6.7 billion.

Where the facts are from:

Other links for aid info:

Miscellaneous facts and opinions

  • A Washington Post editorial explains how much of foreign aid gets wasted on overhead and overregulation.

Facts pulled together by Steven Cytryn. Last updated July 1, 2005

Did we miss something, let some slant slip in, lose a link - or do you just have something to say? Drop a line below! In the spirit of open dialogue, cJ asks you keep it civil, keep it real and keep it focused on the message, not the messenger. See our policy page for more on what that all means.

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U.S. Foreign Aid

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Bette Hammond, President, Slowly Boiling Frogs - NOT! (not verified) | October 9, 2008 - 12:32pm