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Is Massachusetts A Stingy State?

John Alves, of Dartmouth, Mass., uses a basket while taking collection during Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in New Bedford, Mass. in 2009. (AP)

John Alves, of Dartmouth, Mass., uses a basket while taking collection during Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in New Bedford, Mass. in 2009. (AP)

Last week, The Chronicle of Philanthropy released a report that looks into how charitable different parts of the country are. Taken from 2008 IRS tax returns (the most recent year made available), the report drilled down levels of generosity by state, county, and even zip codes.  So the burning question for everyone in Massachusetts is, well, where did we rank?

By one measure – percent of income given – we ranked 4th to last, just above New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. But why? Are people from Massachusetts really that stingy?

The median contribution – that is, the amount of money donated by a typical household to charity – given by Massachusetts residents was $1,652, or 2.8 percent of discretionary income.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked Massachusetts 48th when measuring percent of income given to charity.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked Massachusetts 48th when measuring percent of income given to charity.

Compare that with the $2,564 median contribution on a country-wide level, or 4.7 percent of discretionary income, and Massachusetts’ charitable image leaves a bit more to be desired.

According to Stacy Palmer, an editor for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the disparity might have some correlation to religion.

“One of the things we found was that it was the Bible belt who gave the most, and the New England states that gave the least,” Palmer said in an interview with Radio Boston. “And that’s because religion is such an important factor in determining how much people give.”

For instance, in Utah – the home of the Mormon Church – the median income given to charity was 10.6 percent, with some towns contributing close to 14 percent of their discretionary income to charity, likely because of the Mormon tradition of tithing.

Another distinction the report made was in the difference between red states and blue states, with the study finding there’s a sharp difference between the charitable tendencies of liberals versus conservatives.

“The eight states that ranked highest in The Chronicle’s analysis voted for John McCain in the last presidential election, while the seven lowest-ranking states supported Barack Obama,” the report found.

However, while the blue Massachusetts may have ranked 4th to last in terms of median income given, if you looked at the amount of money Massachusetts residents contributed as a whole, we jump to 14th in the nation. As a state, Massachusetts residents gave a total of $3.1 billion in contributions.

When measuring total contributions, Massachusetts ranked 14th in the country.

When measuring total contributions, Massachusetts ranked 14th in the country.

“In Massachusetts we saw that people with incomes of $200,000 and up were more generous than that average amount,” Palmer explained, “and people who are in the $50,000-75,000 bracket also gave generously. It’s people in that $100,000 to $200,000 income category…who didn’t quite give as much.”

These findings echo those of a 2007 study conducted by the Center of Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College:

We have seen that the low percentages of income contributed are due mainly to lower- and middle-income households in Massachusetts in contrast to high-income households that gave more than most other households in comparable states.

So which ranking is correct? Are we 48th in philanthropy, or are we 14th? The answer is both. It just depends on what is being measured. In terms of contributions coming out of the state, Massachusetts ranks 14th. In terms of individual contributions from state residents, Massachusetts ranks 48th. The bottom line is this: next time someone asks if Masachusetts is charitable or stingy, the appropriate answer may be, simply, “yes.”

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  • http://twitter.com/sgtjosh Joshua Carnes

    Hmmm… “Church” and “charity” in the same category?  Hardly.

    • kathy

      Only an anti-religious left winger would say something like that. With all the democrats in Massachusetts, it is no wonder this state ranks as one of the cheapest

      • Mark

        Senseless comment. You need to make up your mind – are they stingy or liberal?
        You are trying to fit the facts to your prejudices and you’re failing.

      • http://twitter.com/sgtjosh Joshua Carnes

        And only a knuckle dragging, Republican mouth breather would say something like *that* … See, I can generalize too. It all boils down to this: If you want to be a caring, philanthropic, sincere person, you don’t have to believe in talking snakes to do so, loser.

  • YoginiMoon

    I’d love to know what percent of that given went directly to a religious institution as opposed to a specific cause (health, education, environment, etc.).  While I acknowledge the important role such institutions play in peoples lives, and applaud the manner in which many organize its members to participate in other charitable acts (Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, etc.) I believe religious organizations are private institutions whose activities should be funded by nondeductible contributions from its members and aren’t/shouldn’t be, in themselves, considered charities.

  • Ameczywor

    The New England states have a great deal more of their income go toward cost of living, particularly heating fuel costs.  I don’t see that taken into account.  Also, many in New England make donations anonymously  and don’t claim deductions…some are uncomfortable drawing attention to acts of charity.

  • MrFrank_T

    I mostly give cash, and I never deduct my charitable donations.  I think that you should give because you want to give, not because it gives you a break on your taxes.

  • J__o__h__n

    Donations to the Catholic Church are down in MA due to the child rape scandal.  

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