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Who Really Cares: Charity from the Centennial State

Colorado Republicans are giving somewhat more to charity than Democrats.  But the poor and lower-middle class consistently give a higher percentage of their income than everyone else.

A Watchdog Wire Colorado analysis of county-level data from a new Chronicle of Philanthropy study shows a contrast between the 24 counties listed as “Democratic” or “Leaning Democratic” and 35 counties categorized as “Republican” or “Leaning Republican” by the study.  Tax returns (2012) from the Democratic counties show residents giving just under 3 percent of their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) to charitable causes, while the Republican counties contributed 3.5 percent.

This result is statistically significant, with 95 percent reliability.  (Our analysis excluded Republican-leaning Cheyenne County, which, at nearly 11 percent charitable giving, appears to have been unduly influenced by a small number of generous wealthy givers.)  A simpler test, just ranking the counties in order of generosity, produces a similar result.

While there’s a loose link to population, with smaller counties appearing to give slightly more, there’s virtually no correlation between a county’s median income and its generosity, with both poorer and wealthy counties giving both more and less.  For instance, both Boulder and Douglas counties give within .1 percent of the state’s average of 2.73 percent, but both have median incomes over $100,000.  Likewise, two counties, Saguache and Crowley, have similar populations (near 6000), similar median income levels (both near $52,000), but opposition politics (Democrat and Republican, respectively), and rank 6th and 8th in giving, respectively.

However, there is a marked difference in giving according to income levels: poorer and lower-income families give more.  Statewide, those making less than $25,000 a year gave 7 percent of their AGI to charities, and those making between $25,000 and $50,000 gave 3.67 percent.  Those making over $200,000 effectively matched the statewide rate, at 2.7 percent.

In 2006, Arthur Brooks published Who Really Cares, a study of the demographics of charitable giving in the United States.  At the time, Brooks was a professor at Syracuse University; he has since moved on to take the helm at the American Enterprise Institute.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy study comports to his findings, at least here in Colorado.

Unfortunately, Colorado ranks below every single one of its neighbors:

Arizona 3.00%
Kansas 3.45%
Nebraska 3.27%
New Mexico 2.92%
Oklahoma 3.94%
Utah 6.56%
Wyoming 3.09%


Perhaps not coincidentally, Colorado now also has the latest Tax Freedom Day of all those states, according to the Tax Foundation, and in 2012, it was later than all but Utah and Wyoming.

So the next time someone tells you how generous that tax increase is, remind them that charity begins at home.

Photo: Howard Lake, Creative Commons License, Approved for Commercial Purposes

Joshua Sharf

Joshua is co-editor of Watchdog Wire - Colorado. Contact him at Colorado@WatchdogWire.com to learn how to get involved with citizen journalism in the Boulder State. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuasharf

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