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Pew Law Center Blog
August 24, 2012 Lawrence 'D' Pew

Are Middle Class Phoenicians More Charitable Than the Rich?

Yes, based on a recent study comparing the charitable gifting habits of the rich and sometimes famous to those of the middle class. As 81-year-old billionaire philanthropist Charles “Chuck” Feeney would say, it’s best to be “giving while living.”

How America Gives Shows Regular Folks are Regular Donors

Did you know that households with $100,000 plus in annual income account for most charitable donations?

In its special report on  How America Gives, the Chronicle of Philanthropy (“connecting the nonprofit world with news, jobs, and ideas”) processed data by zipcode and income level for each U.S. city and town based on precise dollar amounts released by the IRS “showing the value of charitable deductions claimed by American taxpayers” who itemized in 2008. This new study on the donation habits of Americans provides some interesting results:

● Average yearly charitable gifting by households with $50,000 – $75,000 in annual income is 7.6%.

● Average gifting by households with $200,000 plus in annual income is only 2.8%.

● Regional gifting is higher in areas known to be very religious, as in the Southern “Bible Belt” where charitable gifting is about 5.2% of discretionary income (compared to 4.0% in Northeastern states).

● States that predominately vote Republican, including Arizona, give more than states that predominately vote Democrat. In the 2008 presidential election, the seven least charitable states voted for the Democrat presidential candidate (Obama – WI, CT, RI, MA, VT, ME, and NH), while the eight most charitable states voted for the Republican presidential candidate (McCain – UT, MS, AL, TN, SC, ID, AR, and GA).

● High income families living in exclusive communities tend to be less generous than their financial counterparts residing in non-exclusive neighborhoods.

●Charitable contributions are reported on Schedule A of the 1040 individual income tax return, used only when the taxpayer itemizes deductions. The Chronicle of Philanthropy stated that as much as $214 billion was donated by individuals in 2008, of which $135 billion was reported on itemized individual returns.

The Giving Pledge

It would be very unfair to imply that all rich people are Scrooges with their charitable gifting. In fact, many of world’s richest people have pledged to give away half or more of their vast accumulations.

You need look no further than Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, the duo responsible for the  Giving Pledge. The Giving Pledge is now in its second year and includes over 80 billionaires who are committed to giving away 50% or more of their holdings to charities, which may amount to as much as $200 billion.

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