When it comes to charitable giving, the rich get richer while the poor help others.
The headline of this piece on a recent report put out by the Chronicle of Philanthropy emphasized the religious angle and geography (“Report: Which states give most to charity? The ones with the most church-goers.”). But there is another interesting angle on data that is also included in the story. It starts with an observation on income levels.
According to an analysis of IRS data, in the years spanning from 2006 to 2012, those who made 200,000 a year or more gave 4.6 percent less than in previous years. But those who earned less than 100,000 dollars annually increased their giving by 4.5 percent.
Why? Chronicle editor Stacy Palmer noted one factor: church attendance.
Utah residents proved to be the most generous, with a giving rate of 6.6 percent — for every $1,000 they brought in, they handed out $65.60. Utah is also known for its large population of Mormons, whose church asks them to give at least 10 percent of their income to charity. New Hampshire residents were the least giving, with a rate of 1.7 percent. Maine and Vermont weren’t so charitable either, also ranking among the lowest.
Palmer suggested the meager handouts in northern New England are partly because of low rates of church attendance, but the low rankings also stem from residents’ “independent streak” and a tradition of self-reliance.
Mormons don’t have an independent streak? No tradition of self-reliance? Seriously?
This kind of explanation is simply not sufficient. To understand the data we need to acknowledge that there is more than one tradition of self-reliance. The real factor is perceived responsibility. Mormons stress a responsibility to be self-reliant in part so they are in a position to support good works. If you need to rely on charity than you can’t be charitable to others. (I’m not at all happy that Mormons tithe more faithfully than orthodox Christians, but there it is.) Secular people tend to restrict their caring to themselves.
But what this means is that people who make 200,000 dollars or more are less likely to attend church regularly. It reminds me of the prayer of Agur in the Bible:
Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9 ESV)
You may think you would be better off with more money, but if it makes you abandon God (as evidenced by closing your heart toward others), you are far better off without it.
But this also matters for geography. How many blue states are in the following list of the ten most generous states in the Union?
- Utah: 6.6 percent giving rate
- Mississippi: 5.0 percent
- Alabama: 4.8 percent
- Tennessee: 4.5 percent
- Georgia: 4.2 percent
- South Carolina: 4.1 percent
- Idaho: 4.0 percent
- Oklahoma: 3.9 percent
- Arkansas: 3.9 percent
- North Carolina: 3.6 percent
You will notice that our popular entertainment sources are mostly from L.A. or New York City. They mock the South and the West for all kinds of stuff, some of it true. But they never even try to think about assets and liabilities in the various cultures in the United States.
They try not to think about it.
But here’s something else to think about: in which states are people more likely to believe that the state should take care of the poor and everyone else in society–as well as accuse all who disagree with them of being uncharitable?