The land of the cheerful giver
The Lord loveth a cheerful giver, as the Apostle Paul tells us, and some of the most generous givers are the most cheerful among the faithful, and they live among us in America.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a journal that keeps track of who’s giving what to whom, finds that those who speak the loudest about their concern for the hungry, the hopeless and other good causes, are the stingiest. They only want to give away the money of other people.
“The wealthiest Americans are giving a smaller share of their income to charity,” the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a nonpartisan, non-political journal, says of its analysis of IRS data available for 2012. “The poor and middle-income people are digging deeper into their wallets. Some nonprofit leaders, especially those who serve the poorest people, say it was the loyalty of people with low and moderate incomes that sustained them in the roughest periods of the economy and is continuing to do so now in the recovery.”
Grateful charities are quick to make the point that they still count on the wealthy for help; the dollars they give contribute “a big piece” of the recovery of charities. But the poor and the middle class give a bigger share of a smaller income, making painful sacrifices to do good.
The most generous in giving to the hopeless, the homeless and the hungry are the folks who live in the conservative red states. These are the states that invariably voted for Mitt Romney. The stingy, the niggardly and the miserly tend to live in the blue states, the stronghold of the liberal pieties. They invariably voted for Barack Obama. The most generous blue state is Florida, giving at a rate of 3.22 percent, ranking 17th among the states.
Utah is the most generous of all, with a majority of Mormons whose faith teaches them to give 10 percent of their income to others; Utah gives at a statewide rate of 6.5 percent. These figures include givers of other faiths, and those of no particular faith. Mississippi is the second most generous state, with a rate of 5 percent.
Eight of the 10 most generous states are in the South: Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and North Carolina. Residents of these states give on average at least 3.7 percent of their income, after taxes, to church or charity. Some give considerably more. Tithing, or contributing 10 percent of income, is popular in these states, too.
The stingiest states are Hawaii, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. New Hampshire’s 1.7 rate puts it dead last.
“It could be church-giving that skews the data,” says Richard (“Dick”) Taft, a fundraiser for philanthropic causes, “but I think that’s too simple an analysis. It could be that the liberals are all talk. Or it could mean people with religious convictions give more in general to charity, not just to churches. My Jewish friends are always puzzled or amazed when I tell them that the biggest givers to Israel are generally in the evangelistic Christian community, while ... [some] liberal Jews see Israel as a human-rights violator and are holding back on their contributions. There are many paradoxes in philanthropy.”
The greatest paradox of all, though it won’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention to what goes on about him, is that the burden of caring for others is borne by those who, in context, have the least. For many, caring for others is compelled by their religious faith. Organized atheists, who have become aggressive in their pursuit of a secular society, shorn of religious influences, do not endow hospitals, orphanages or universities, beyond paying taxes like the religious and everyone else. Such gifts are the legacy of the people of the Good Book.
Residents of only two of the top 50 cities in America, Salt Lake City and Memphis, gave more than 5 percent of their income to charity. Several cities among the most generous have large populations of black and relatively poor. The stingiest cities, at No. 49 and 50, are Hartford, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, at less than 2 percent. All but one of the top 10 cities for charitable giving are in the South; Salt Lake City is the exception at No. 1. The most generous ZIP code lies across tiny Canby, California, whose 645 residents give at a rate of 18 percent. Many of them are members of a small Pentecostal religious denomination.
Rich and poor, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Americans are the most generous people on earth. When earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes strike across the globe, it’s the Americans who respond first. America is both sui generis and exceptionally generous. Some are just more generous than others. Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.