Salt Lake, Ogden Rank Highest for Charity Donations

Salt Lake, Ogden Rank Highest for Charity Donations

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- This metropolitan region ranked No. 1 in charity giving by a study that analyzed federal income tax data. Residents who itemized tax deductions gave nearly 15 percent of their discretionary income to religious and nonprofit causes.

Much of the charity is given by Mormons as tithing to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Salt Lake City-Ogden region far outranked the 49 other largest metropolitan regions in giving, the study found. The runner-up was Grand Rapids/Muskegon/Holland in Michigan at 10 percent.

The study, published Monday in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, analyzed 1997 tax data for households earning more than $50,000 a year that itemized deductions, including charity donations, on their tax returns.

Taxpayers who don't itemize can't write off charity donations, and there is no reliable way to measure their donations.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy subtracted housing, food, tax and other basic living costs from total incomes to arrive at figures for discretionary incomes.

For the Salt Lake-Ogden region, discretionary income was figured at $39,345 per household.

Utah County emerged in the study as the most generous county in the nation. Its residents gave an average of 23.6 percent of their available income to charity.

Other Utah counties were close behind. Davis County ranked third with residents donating 20 percent of their discretionary income. Weber County took seventh place at 15.1 percent. Salt Lake County ranked eighth at 14.9 percent.

More than $3 of every $4 donated across the nation was given to houses of worship and religious causes.

Fourteen counties in Utah and Idaho ranked among the top 20 counties in giving. Those 14 counties, heavily represented by Mormons, gave 19 percent to 27 percent of their discretionary income to charity.

Utah drops out of top rankings only when charity rates were compared among the nation's 50 largest cities. No Utah city is large enough to make that list.

Detroit headed the list of most generous cities. Its residents spend an average of 12.1 percent of their discretionary income on charity.

New York City and Fort Worth, Texas, tied for second place at 10.9 percent. Denver came in third at 10.1 percent.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy also listed the nation's stingiest cities (headed by Miami), metropolitan areas (Hartford, Conn.) and counties (Rockingham County, N.H.).

Those parsimonious residents gave as little as 3.7 percent and no more than 6.9 percent of their discretionary incomes to charity.

Utah's generous nature has a downside. Its predominantly Mormon residents, who tend to have large families, can be stretched after paying 10 percent of their earnings in church tithing. Utah also has the nation's highest personal bankruptcy rates. Those factors can leave secular charities in Utah wanting.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy examined Utah in a separate story titled, "Mormons make Utah a land of plenty, but some charities go begging."

Deborah Bayle Nielsen, chief executive officer for the United Way of Salt Lake, told the publication her group raised only $8.2 million last year, far less than the $26 million the United Way raises in other cities of equal size.

The United Way has ranked Utah 48th in the nation for per-capita giving to secular charities.

But the generosity of the Mormon church and its members reduces the demand for social services in Utah, the church's welfare chief Harold Brown told the biweekly publication.

Nielsen conceded the point but said the United Way still can't raise enough money to meet Utah's needs.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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