Bethlehem Trails Nation in Charitable Giving

Report from The Chronicle of Philanthropy says Bethlehem residents contribute 3.8 percent of discretionary income to charities as opposed to 4.7 percent nationwide.


Bethlehem households contributed $38 million to charity in 2008, giving it a ranking of 542 out of 11,522 towns across the country, according to a new survey from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

While that appears incredibly generous, charity giving in the Christmas City looks quite a bit more average – perhaps below average – when it is measured as a percentage of discretionary household income.

The typical Bethlehem household contributed $1,988 – or 3.8 percent of its discretionary income – to charity in 2008, according to The Chronicle’s interactive report. That compares to 4.7 percent for the typical American family and 3.9 percent for the typical Pennsylvania family.

The typical contribution per household nationwide was $2,564.

The Chronicle broke down communities by zip code and looked at the contributions of households that made more than $50,000 a year. The Chronicle counted as discretionary income what taxpayers had left after they paid taxes and paid for food, housing and other essentials.

Bethlehem’s median discretionary household income was $52,928, which was below the state and national medians of $55,661 and $54,783.

Pennsylvania as a whole gave $4.7 billion to charity in 2008, which meant it ranked seventh out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., in total amount given. But Pennsylvanians had a median contribution of $2,181 out of discretionary income of $55,661, which put it at 40th out of 51.

The Chronicle found other interesting trends.

States with large populations of religious people generally give more than those without. “Two of the top nine states – Utah and Idaho – have high numbers of Mormon residents, who have a tradition of tithing at least 10 percent of their income to the church,” a story on the Chronicle website noted. Salt Lake City households, for example, gave a median of 9 percent of their discretionary income.  All the other states in the top nine are in the Bible Belt.

But, the Chronicle noted, “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.”

Red states give more than blue states, the group said. “The eight states where residents gave the highest share of income to charity went for John McCain in 2008,” the story said. “The seven-lowest-ranking states supported Barack Obama.” Red states are Republican dominated and blue states are Democratic dominated.

Here are a few other interesting findings:

  • Those in the middle class give a much larger share of their income to charity – 7.6 percent for Americans earning $50,000-$75,000 – than the wealthy. Americans making more than $100,000 give an average of 4.2 percent.
  • Wealthy people who live in places surrounded by other rich people give less of a share of their incomes than well-off Americans in diverse communities.
  • Residents from New England states like New Hampshire and Maine gave the smallest share of their discretionary income and those in Southern states gave the most.
  • Tax credits for giving make a big difference in how much people give. Arizona has special tax benefits for those who donate and charities are receiving more than $100 million each year.


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