Mississippi first, Massachusetts last in generosity survey

BOSTON - When it comes to charity, relatively poor Mississippi and other Bible Belt states are mighty generous, while New England ranks at the bottom in spite of its new economy, ''dot-com'' money.

Massachusetts finished dead last for the fourth time in six years in the Generosity Index released Monday.

''Some people think it's Yankee thrift in action,'' said George McCully, a member of the Committee to Encourage Charitable Giving, one of the groups that released the data.

The survey, compiled by the Urban Institute's National Center for Charitable Statistics, analyzed tax returns from 1998 to compare each state's average adjusted gross income with its average itemized charitable deduction.

Although it compared the average income of all residents with charitable giving data only from those who itemize - about one in four - people who itemize account for about 80 percent of charitable giving.

Organizers of the report acknowledge the method is imperfect and doesn't account for things such as volunteering, but they said it offers a reasonable comparison.

The 10 most generous states were in the southern Bible Belt, plus the Dakotas and heavily Mormon Utah.

Mississippi was at the head of the list with an average itemized charitable contribution of $4,070, even though average adjusted gross income ranked 49th in the nation at $31,056.

''Mississippians give freely of their time, efforts, talent and finances to help others in need,'' Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said.

New England states were clustered at the bottom, joined in the lower 10 by Minnesota, New Jersey, Illinois, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Maryland.

In Massachusetts, where the average income was $51,812 - fourth in the nation - the average itemized gift was just $2,645.

The groups presenting the study said cost of living and state tax laws play some role in the differences, as do religious differences - New England has a higher percentage of Catholics, who they said are less likely to give to churches than Protestants who dominate in the South.

McCully said there is also clearly a cultural difference.

''You talk about Southern hospitality,'' McCully said. ''How many people have ever heard of New England hospitality?''

Several of the groups involved in the presentation support a Nov. 7 ballot initiative to create a Massachusetts state tax deduction that would encourage giving. After the ballot campaign began, the measure was passed by the state Legislature, so the ballot initiative is a mere formality.


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