Thursday, August 23, 2012

Red States, Blue States

The Chronicle of Philanthropy released a study on Monday showing that "red states" give more to charity than "blue states."  Using data from 2008 tax returns, the authors compared charitable contributions to "discretionary income," which they define as income left over after paying for food, clothing, health care, child care, housing, taxes, and other necessities. 

The study identified several patterns that seem to have caught the eye of the media, but that probably won't surprise those already familiar with charitable giving patterns.  The first is that the states whose residents gave the highest percentage of their discretionary income to charity all voted for McCain in 2008, while those whose residents gave the lowest percentage voted for Obama.  Another finding is that households earning $50,000 to $75,000 a year give a higher percentage (7.6% of discretionary income) than other individuals.  One finding I hadn't seen before but that shouldn't really surprise us is that wealthy individuals who live in economically diverse neighborhoods give a higher percentage of their income than wealthy individuals who live amongst themselves.

The study also suggests that religious motivations play a large role in incentivizing charitable giving, noting that two of the nine most generous states (Utah and Idaho) have large Mormon populations and that the other top givers are in the Bible Belt.  To its credit, the study examined whether the results change when religious giving is ignored, and finds that they do.  New York rises from 18th to 2nd in generosity, for example, and Pennsylvania from 40th to 4th.  However, the study doesn't seem to break down the percentage given to groups that assist the poor, in contrast to organizations like museums and private schools and universities.  And as I've argued in my scholarship, knowing who is giving to what is necessary for a full understanding of charitable giving patterns and policy.

Miranda Perry Fleischer

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the study also does not attempt to account for giving by non-itemizers. they do show a comparison in the print edition with a study from boston college that does attempt this, and the rankings are entirely different. several "blue" states rising quite a number of places in the ranking.

Posted by: r. willis | Aug 23, 2012 4:39:00 PM

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