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Monday, June 11, 2007

Massachusetts may be stingy, but its rich give more.

Almost two years ago, I cheered a Boston Globe story reporting that the annual Generosity Index — which always shows Massachusetts coming in at the parsimonious bottom — is inherently flawed. Yesterday's Globe takes another whack at the index. Two researchers at Boston College have spent the last two years examining charitable giving in the state in what the Globe calls unprecedented detail, and they've turned up some interesting facts:

Wealthy givers and the middle-class pinch: The rich in Massachusetts give a lot more than in other states, but those of us whose households make less than $100,000 a year give a lot less. The average American household earns $60,000 a year and gives about 4 percent to charity. In Massachusetts, households earning more than $100,000 a year give a whopping 7.4 percent of their after-tax income; households earning between $25,000 and $100,000 give only 2.3 percent; the poor give 2.8 percent.

Of course, charitable giving by the rich is unlike the giving the rest of us do because, as the story notes, "donations from affluent residents . . . come from investments and assets rather than household budgets." The rest of us are giving away part of our salaries. The article notes another factor: middle- and lower-income households give less in part because the cost of living and taxes take a much bigger bite here than elsewhere.

Secular giving and underfunded churches: Massachusetts households give much more to secular charities than to churches — $1,057 on average per household, compared to $776 per household nationally. It isn't just that Roman Catholics, the state's largest religious group, don't give much, either:

"New England is the only section of the country in which secular giving is more than church giving," said Paul G. Schervish, a co author of the study and the director of Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. The trend is strong among the state's wealthy donors, the study found.

Louise Burnham Packard, executive director of the Trinity Boston Foundation, was not surprised by the report's findings that only four states contribute less proportionately to religious institutions than Massachusetts.

"It's in our culture," she said. "We don't think churches need that much money and we're not used to them raising it."

The Trinity Boston Foundation, incidentally, is the fundraising arm of Trinity Church in Copley Square, the monumental Episcopal Church that recently completed a multi-million dollar restoration and expansion project. Burnham Packard tells the Globe that Trinity's successful capital campaign stressed secular benefits when approaching potential major donors.

("Wide gap shown in Mass. charitable giving," Peter Schworm, Boston Globe 6.10.07, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 11 June 2007 at 8:10 AM

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June 11, 2007 03:39 PM | Permalink for this comment

There is a substantial body of scholarly work about charitable giving. A recent popular survey is _Who Really Cares?_ by Arthur Brooks. Brooks and others have convincingly demonstrated a large connection between charitable giving and church attendence. By American standards, New England has very low levels of both. People who attend church in Massachusetts are just as generous as churchgoers elsewhere, they are just a smaller proportion of the population. (Note that while it isn't surprising that churchgoers give more to religious charity, they also give more to non-religious charity. They are also more likely to be involved with secular civic organizations etc.)

On average there is little difference in overall charitable giving between liberal and conservative churchgoers. (Unfortunately for UU churches, liberal churchgoers are more likely to direct their donations to secular organizations.) Conversely, liberal and conservative non-churchgoers are both relatively ungenerous. Secular conservatives are least generous of all.

Conservatives like to point out that "Blue States" give less than "Red States" and that "liberals" give less than "conservatives". These trends are true, but not if you correct for religion.

Folks quoted in the Globe claim that high taxes suppress charity. This is an argument often made by conservatives. In my view the evidence for this is weak and mostly comes from studies which ignore religion. In any case, middle class people in Massachusetts and elsewhere are less generous than poor people, so it can't be lack of money.

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