Regions & Religion: Donations, Charities, Tax Credits, etc

A typical piece of data that is often mentioned is that the most religious states donate the most money. There is a nice mapping of this by region from The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

A map showing that donors in Southern states give 5.2% of their discretionary income to charity, compared to 4.5% in the West, 4.3% in the Midwest, and 4.0% in the Northeast

But if giving to churches is excluded. it is actually the Northeast that gives more to charity:

A map showing that donors in Northeast give 1.4% of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared to 1.1% in the West, 0.9% in the Midwest, and 0.9% in the South

Of course, it is more complicated than this. The above example is a case of why one should be careful of reading too much into data before understanding the details.

* * * *

In another article at this site, they discussed different demographics, policies and other issues. For example, they mentioned tax credits:

“The reasons for the discrepancies are rooted in part in each area’s political philosophy about the role of government versus charity: At least 13 states now offer special tax benefits to charity donors, often in the hopes of stimulating giving at the same time that lawmakers are adopting big cuts in government services.” [ . . . ]

“Tax incentives matter. State policies that promote giving can make a significant difference and in some cases are influencing the rankings. In Arizona, charities are reaping more than $100-million annually from a series of tax credits adopted in recent years.”

It’s interesting that they brought up Arizona. I just read an article about that state—Give to Charity, Turn a Profit by David Cay Johnston:

“Arizona taxpayers who itemize deductions on their federal returns can turn a profit by giving to charity, thanks to a system of state tax credits.”

Is giving to charity in order to gain tax credits or even gain profit actually charity in any meaningful sense?

* * * *

In response to various articles at that site, here is what was brought up in the comments:

The lead article gives some insight:

“When religious giving isn’t counted, the geography of giving is very different. Some states in the Northeast jump into the top 10 when secular gifts alone are counted. New York would vault from No. 18 to No. 2, and Pennsylvania would climb from No. 40 to No. 4….”

It really comes down to what “giving” means. Tithing to your church or donating to your favorite PAC is a bit different than giving to your local homeless shelter,

The article is misleading by including tithing in the totals. The average church gives 3% of its proceeds to non church outlets. The other 97% is spent on the parsonage and salaries of principal leaders, church upkeep, mortgages, missionaries who evangelize primarily and other church related functions. The people who do not attend the church but benefit from money received through the church is only 3% of the take. That number is hard to verify because of the non-reporting exclusion that only churches (as charities) receive. However conversations with various financial officers will verify the statistic.

This is statistical idiocy. It says NOTHING about who actually gives. Maybe it is the case that the liberals in the red states are actually the givers? Also remember all states are about 50/50 red and blue anyway.

First, only a third of Democrats identify as liberal with another third identifying as moderate and the other third identifying with conservative.

Second, most Southerners identify with the Democratic Party, but because of disenfranchisement (voting purges, long polling lines in poor neighborhoods, etc) the vast majority of Southerners don’t vote.

Third, the poor in all states and regions who lean more toward Democrats and vote more for Democrats are being excluded from this data.

Seems like there is also more poverty in the red states making a higher need for charity there.

That is what few don’t understand. Red states have the most social problems and so need more charity to deal with those social problems. Blue states tend to spend their money on programs to prevent social problems before they begin or alleviate social problems before they become too bad. All that liberal government spending makes private charity less necessary. Even so, the Northeast gives the most to private charities (while the South gives the most to churches).

This ignores that the red states in question already start out with weaker wages and social safety nets. Liberal kindness shows more readily by realizing that poverty is a social problem needing social addressing by greater tax provision. It is the reason charitable contributions tend to be lower in Europe than the US, but typically still have lower poverty rates.

Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, SC, Idaho, Arkansas, and Georgia
(in the top ten), all have poverty rates in the approx. 15 – 20% range. States like Vermont, Massachusetts,Connecticut, Wisconsin, NH (lowest rate in the country) and NJ (2nd lowest rate) have poverty rates of approx. 6 – 10 %:

That may be true, the Blues DO pay much more in taxes, are more wealthy, and receive less per dollar in from the Gov vs. the reds who receive more per dollar in taxes paid.

but it doesn’t explain the imbalance of secular Northeastern giving in much greater amounts to secular charity. There are certainly a greater amount and variety of charitable organizations in the NE compared to the South…

Perhaps since the reds receive more Fed money, they can free up the people to give to their churches more?

Don’t forget that giving to the church is also self-serving as it can be ascribed as an “insurance policy” to get into “heaven”….

The giving was determined from median disposable income — that is money after taxes, mortgage or rent, groceries, utilities, car payments, etc.  In other words, what do people do with the money that remains after paying for necessities?

So whether or not a state is a net payer or a net receiver would not affect giving as a percentage of median disposable income.The primary reason Red States receive more federal money is for defense-related purposes — Red States are disproportionately represented in the armed services.  Blue States pay residents in Red States to fight in die in wars.

Interesting study, but note that it doesn’t count all those who give to charity but don’t own homes so can’t itemize deductions. I assume that because of this, people with lower incomes who don’t itemize and those who live in high-cost cities (less home-owners and more renters) are not included. I would be curious to see how that skews the data, as the states they list as the “most generous” probably have much lower property values, higher home ownership, and more people able to itemize their charitable deductions.

Personally I am not surprised to hear about New Hampshire, the state whose motto is “Live Free or Die” has no sales tax, and no motorcycle helmet laws ; )

“Because of discrepancies in the data for people with income below $50,000, The Chronicle’s study includes only taxpayers who reported incomes of $50,000 or more.”

Is that gross income of $50,000 or an AGI of $50,000? Is there any data for tax filers who don’t itemize? If not (and it seems not) out of the total universe of filers, how many filers were excluded and how many were included in the study? Without that data, and for each level of aggregation, it’s hard to believe any of the findings.

This study excluded more than half the taxpayers in the nation (those making less than fifty thousand a year). It also did not inlcude charitable donations not included in tax deductions. I rarely (if ever) include charitable donations in my tax records. I think the study doesn’t do a  very good job on who does, and doesn’t give. Not even in terms of pure dollar amounts, much less in terms of percent of income. Would christ admire the multi-millionare who gave in public, and got a tax deduction more, or the women who gave her last penny to help others?

What’s not included here is the fact that many ‘high net worth’ individuals donate massively to their children’s private schools, ‘gala’ events with $1,000 per plate dinners, etc.  This is ‘returned’ to them in the form of lowered tuition, social connections/status, food/drink/entertainment, etc. So, those who malign the ‘blue’ states need to provide data showing that this website data is quantified with the ‘net return’ to people who can afford to donate extensively to pass-through organizations and ‘party’ opportunities.

It is a bad system which actually creates the need for charity in the first place. Most givers of charity don’t realize that a system which creates or allows the need for charity to exist, is a bad system which must be replaced with a system that takes care of everyone’s needs without the need for charity at all. Charity is a way for some people to feel good about themselves, while supporting a totally evil system. Charity is a way of allowing people to pat themselves on the back for throwing crumbs to the poor while keeping more than their fair share for themselves and while supporting a system which actually needs the existence of the poor in order for the system to continue its own existence.

It is the system which creates poverty. And, it is the idea that some people actually deserve more than other people do, which helps to keep this evil and vile and criminal system in place. But, it is not true that some people deserve more than others, or that some people have more of a right to be here than others do.

The simple fact that a particular person IS here, is proof that that person deserves to be here, or that person simply would not be here. No sentient being is required by the universe, to earn their keep or justify their existence on this planet. The resources on this planet belong to everyone equally, and are meant to be shared equally with all.

No society or system can justify the existence of poverty by throwing crumbs at the poor and calling it charity. The poor cannot be justifiably blamed for their own poverty…only the system can be blamed.

Note that donations to the hateful American Family Association are tax-deductible, donations to the ACLU are not. Determining charity based on the tax code’s bias toward religious causes will (of course!) skew the results toward making religious people appear more charitable than they are. What’s worse is that this false result will be dished out against the “evil atheists” in the next “charitable” religious fundraiser rally, right? 


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