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Why Utah tops list of most generous US states

The more religious a state, the more generous to charities, especially religious institutions. More secular states in the Northeast are less generous, says a new study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. 

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The study found that in the Northeast region, including New England, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, people gave 4.1 percent of their discretionary income to charity. The percentage was 5.2 percent in the Southern states, a region from Texas east to Delaware and Florida, and including most of the so-called Bible Belt.

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The Bible mandates a 10 percent annual donation, or tithe, to the church, and the donation is commonly preached as a way to thank God, care for others and show faith in God's provision. But it has a greater emphasis in some faiths.

In Mormon teachings, for instance, Latter Day Saints are required to pay a 10 percent tithe to remain church members in good standing, which helps explain the high giving rate in heavily-Mormon Utah.

"Any LDS member who is faithful does that," said Valerie Mason, 70, of Mesa, Ariz., during an interview in Salt Lake City. "Some struggle with it. Some leave the church because of it. But we believe in the blessing. ... Tithing does bring the blessing of God's promise."

Alan Wolfe, a political science professor at Boston College, said it's wrong to link a state's religious makeup with its generosity. People in less religious states are giving in a different way by being more willing to pay higher taxes so the government can equitably distribute superior benefits, Wolfe said. And the distribution is based purely on need, rather than religious affiliation or other variables, said Wolfe, also head of the college's Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life.

Wolfe said people in less religious states "view the tax money they're paying not as something that's forced upon them, but as a recognition that they belong with everyone else, that they're citizens in the common good. ... I think people here believe that when they pay their taxes, they're being altruistic."

The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes that "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."

Among other notable findings of the study:

— People who earn $200,000 per year give a greater percentage to charity when they live in ZIP codes with fewer people who are as wealthy as they are.

— People who earn between $50,000 and $75,000 annually give a higher percentage of their income to charity (7.6 percent) than those who make $100,000 or more (4.2 percent).

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Associated Press writers Lindsey Anderson and Rodrique Ngowi in Boston and Lynn DeBruin in Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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