Utahns give far more of their income to charity than any other Americans, a Deseret News study of Internal Revenue Service tax data shows.
Utahns reported providing $2.9 billion to charity in 2006, or 5 percent of their adjusted gross income.
Nationally, Americans gave an average of 2.3 percent of their income that year — or less than half of what Utahns provided.
Economists, politicians and officers of nonprofits say most Utah donations go to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which tackles many of the state's charitable needs. Other Utah groups, from the United Way to political parties, say they raise less here than organizations similar to them in other states.
In short, they report tough fundraising among very charitable people.
"There is such a thing as an income constraint. Assuming people have a budget for charitable giving, if they are tied into a particular nonprofit such as the LDS Church … it makes sense that's where a disproportionate share of giving would go," said University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich.
The Deseret News looked at IRS individual tax return data for 2006, the most recent year it is available for local levels. It figured what percentage of the adjusted gross income for different geographic areas was reported as donated to charities.
Of course, not all people itemize deductions — so actual amounts given to charity are almost surely higher than the numbers reported here. Also not counted are such things as hours volunteered by youth coaches and Sunday School teachers, bequests from estates or money sent by residents to needy relatives in such places as Mexico or Africa.
The Deseret News analysis led to some other interesting findings.
For example, how much Utahns give to charity varies greatly in different ZIP codes. It ranges from a high of 11.4 percent of income in a downtown Salt Lake City ZIP code surrounding Temple Square and LDS Church headquarters to a low of 0.07 percent in the ZIP code for the University of Utah.
Also, Utah taxpayers in richer categories do not always pay more of their income to charity than do less-fortunate brackets.
In 2006, the average adjusted gross income among the more than 1 million returns filed by Utahns was $53,443. A bit more than a third of those filers itemized charitable deductions on forms that year to gain bigger tax deductions.
Of those Utahns who itemized, the average amount they gave to charity was $7,495 (compared to a national average of $4,399).
Scholarly studies of charitable giving usually average donations among all returns, not just those that itemized. The average charitable donation per return for all filers in Utah was $2,698, or 5 percent of average adjusted gross income. Nationally, it was $1,319, or 2.3 percent of average income.
While the LDS Church declined comment for this story, scholarly studies have long surmised that Utah's unusually high charitable giving is because of its high number of Mormons who live here.
The church teaches its faithful to give 10 percent of income as tithing and to skip two meals the first "fast" Sunday of every month to give the money saved or more to help the needy. It also raises money for humanitarian work worldwide, for missionary work and for educating Mormons in Third World countries.
"Obviously, the LDS Church garners a great proportion of that (overall) money," said Dave Hansen, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, which finds it a bit hard to raise money here in part because Utahns give so much to churches.
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