Aug. 20, 2012 -- intro: Which states are more generous about giving money to charities? Red or blue states? A report by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "How America Gives," uses the most recent available IRS data from 2008 to find out.
The answer, according to the report, is that people in Republican-leaning states give somewhat more, mostly because of religious ties. The Chronicle studied individual tax returns and studied demographic characteristics such as religion and political affiliation. The report found that states that were in favor of the 2008 presidential candidate John McCain gave higher percentages of discretionary income toward charities.
The state of Utah, where a majority of residents are Mormon and encouraged to give ten percent of their income to the church, had the highest percentage, 10.6 percent. Residents in Utah had an estimated median discretionary income of $49,551, or after taxes, housing, food, and other living expenses.
The Chronicle created an interactive tool that allows users to find how generous people in their own ZIP codes are, as well as how much people in their areas have donated to charities.
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The state of Utah shows how important religion is to giving, said Peter Panepento, the Chronicle of Philanthropy's assistant managing editor. In Utah, the estimated median contribution was $5,255, as reported to the IRS on itemized tax returns.
The states and communities that tended to give the highest percentage of income to charity were those with high rates of religious participation.
"Utah, far and away, has given the most to charity, with its strong tie to the Mormon religion," he said.
Many religions, including the Mormon faith, encourage or direct believers to give 10 percent, or tithe, from their income to the church.
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The District of Columbia followed Utah, people there giving an average of 7.7 percent of their salaries to charity. The district, the only ranking in the top five that swung Democrat in the last presidential election, has an estimated median discretionary income of $39,045.
After religion, diversity, especially in an urban area such as the District of Columbia, is a major factor affecting philanthropy. In other words, where and with whom someone lives affects his or her giving habits, Panepento said.
People who made over $200,000 a year and lived in wealthier ZIP codes gave in lower numbers than those in more economically diverse ZIP codes, the Chronicle found.
"If you're kind of out there and exposed to the challenges society is facing, you're more likely to give than if you are isolated from them," Panepento said.
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Mississippi, a Bible-belt state, ranked third in philanthropic giving, another example of the relationship between giving and religion.
The state had an estimated median contribution of $3,998 with a giving percentage of 7.2 percent of income. The estimated median discretionary income was $55,264.
When giving to churches is removed from the analysis, the state philanthropic rankings change dramatically.
This is most stark in New England, where religious participation is lower than in many other parts of the country, and the Northeast. When religious giving is removed, New York State ranked number 18 overall, moves up to number two. Pennsylvania, number 40 when giving to religious institutions is included, ranks fourth for giving go other charitable institutions.
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The state of Alabama ranked fourth with a giving percentage of 7.1 percent and an estimated median giving contribution of $4,007. The estimated median income for residents is $56,493.
Also in the Bible belt, Alabama also has strong religious ties that encourage people to give more of their income to the church and charitable causes.
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The state of Tennessee ranked fifth, with a giving rate of 6.6 percent and a median contribution of $3,807. The median discretionary income is $58,097.
A number of religious denominations are headquartered in Tennessee, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention.