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No growth in giving – Utah still contributes most

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Between 1997 and 1998, charitable giving in the U.S. rose about $10 billion, but that increase was the product of rising incomes rather than increasing generosity, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported August 10.

On average, taxpayers continued to give slightly more than 3 percent of their incomes to charity, according to itemized tax returns.

People in the lowest income bracket gave the highest percentage to charity. Those with incomes of less than $20,000 a year who itemized their deductions gave an average of 11 percent. Only about five percent of that income bracket itemize, however, so it is impossible to know whether most lower-income people are so generous.

Those who earn $200,000 or more gave an average of 3.5 percent of their earnings. More than 90 percent of that group itemizes their returns, so that figure is probably accurate.

Taxpayers in Utah gave by far the largest share of their earnings to charity, donating an average of nearly 7 percent. Utah consistently ranks high, researchers say, because so many of its residents are members of the Mormon Church. Mormons are expected to tithe by donating at least 10 percent of their earnings to the church.

Washington, D.C. taxpayers also gave a higher-than-average proportion of their paychecks to charity. Charity officials say the credit belongs at least partly to the Combined Federal Campaign for the National Capitol Area, which raises money for charity among federal employees.

The IRS data are not a perfect reflection of state-by-state generosity. Many taxpayers don’t itemize their returns, which may skew a state’s data towards those who do, who also tend to be big givers.

Furthermore, in states that provide generous benefits to the poor, residents feel less need to give to charity. This factor may explain the consistently lower giving rates of the New England states.

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