The land of the cheer­ful giver

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

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.

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