Vermonters give an average of 2.8 percent of their discretionary income to charity, making us one of the stingiest states in the union, according to a national study conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Our cellar-dwelling neighbors are close by. New Hampshire is the stingiest at 2.5 percent, and the rest of New England fills in the bottom six positions nationally.
The correlation, according to the study, is tied to religion. Utah, heavily Mormon (72.6 percent consider themselves religious) ranks first, with its residents giving 10.6 percent of their income to charity. Utah was followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Vermont, according to various polls, is among the least religious states with 23 percent considering themselves religious. This secular inclination is shared in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire.
The conclusion would be a very negative one, if the headline accompanying the study were the extent of the information provided. Vermonters could only conclude that they give less to charity than people in most other states, making us a selfish lot.
Further, according to those who interpret such studies, nine of the 10 “least generous” states voted for Barack Obama in the last election, and eight of the 10 “most generous” states voted for John McCain.
So, Republicans are giving because they are religious and Democrats are stingy because they are not? Godless New Englanders care less about their fellow man than Southerners who are devout?
Let’s dig a little deeper, which isn’t difficult.
When the task is taking care of children, Vermont ranked third nationally in a national study released earlier this month. Mississippi — which ranked second nationally in its charity — ranked 49th. In fact, of the first eight top slots, New England states claimed six of them. We take care of our children.
When the task is personal health, Vermont always ranks among the top five states, often number one. Mississippi almost always ranks at the bottom, as do most of the states ranked high as “most charitable.”
When the task is educating our children, again, Vermont ranks at the top, Mississippi at the bottom, along with many of the other “religious and giving” states.
In other words, the level of one’s donations and one’s devoutness isn’t a good marker of a state’s charity toward itself or its citizens. The goal should be to provide the necessary resources that enable the general population to prosper. It’s an egalitarian approach that essentially creates a rising tide to lift all boats. That is not accomplished through individual giving, it’s accomplished through established and dependable sources of collective giving — otherwise known as taxes.
It’s more than a little annoying to read the stories that accompany such studies. For a state like our own, which has a deserved reputation for its independence and caring for its own, it’s a bit jarring to have others depict us as stingy and uncaring.
If taking care of our children the way we do is stingy, then guilty as charged.
If stressing the importance of education is stingy, then sign us up.
If focusing on the health of our citizens is stingy, then bring it on.
Somehow, or another, we think the Great White Buffalo would approve.
by Emerson Lynn
St. Albans Messenger