Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Charitable giving in the US - an interactive map

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has posted a study of charitable giving in the United States, along with an interactive map that lets you view, at the level of zip code, total contributions, as well as contributions, discretionary income, and percentage of income given by household. For each zip code, you can also look at different income levels. Here's a screenshot illustrating percent of income given per household from a zip code in the middle of the country:

 And another, showing median contribution per household, from New York City:



The study is based on 2008 tax returns of Americans who itemized deductions and earned more than $50,000. (To calculate discretionary income, The Chronicle subtracted taxes paid, median housing costs for each zip code, and average living expenses from adjusted gross income.) Among the findings of the study:

  * Overall, Americans donated a median of 4.7% of discretionary income to charities. These donations accounted for about $135 billion of the $214 billion donated each year. (The rest appears to come from individuals who did not itemize donations.)

   * Households earning $50,000 to $75,000 gave an average of 7.6% of discretionary income to charity, compared to 4.2% of people earning $100,000 or more. Moreover, the report says:
Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities. When people making more than $200,000 a year account for more than 40 percent of the taxpayers in a ZIP code, the wealthy residents give an average of 2.8 percent of discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for all itemizers earning $200,000 or more.
This seems like a crucial finding to me - it's a little worrisome that the highest income people might not be motivated to give, especially when governments are decreasing budgets and social services programs are cutting back. (But when I dug a little more deeply in The Chronicle's list of the 20th wealthiest zip codes I was not entirely convinced. Several of the zip codes listed are office buildings with their own zip codes - 10111 and 10112 are part of Rockefeller Center in New York City, for example.)

     * Tax incentives, views of the role of government, and religion matters. Utah, with many Mormon residents, who often tithe, led the list of states in terms of giving. But when religious giving is excluded, northeastern states jump to the top of the list. The report goes on:
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.

The reasons for the discrepancies among states, cities, neighborhoods are rooted in part in each area’s political philosophy about the role of government versus charity.

 Overall, though, it's a very interesting data set, and very easy to use. Use the comments to let me know whether you agree.

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