Jana Riess: Utah, with its deep LDS influence, is the most generous U.S. state, study finds

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A Project Protect organizer gives clinical face mask kits to a volunteer at the church’s Deseret Industries location in Murray in mid-April 2020.

When it comes to volunteering time and donating money to charity, Utahns are some of the most generous people in the nation, according to a new study.

On Monday, the personal finance website WalletHub released the results of its 10-year study, in which residents of each state were compared on 19 indicators of charitable behavior, including community service, volunteerism per capita, distributing food and giving money to charity.

Utah ranked first overall and first in several of the categories, such as having the highest percentage of its population who donate money and time, and the highest percentage of income given.

This is not surprising in that Utah is the home and headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has long emphasized the value of giving 10% of income to the church. Previous studies have shown that Latter-day Saints are the most generous religious group in America when it comes to giving money: in 2008, Christian Smith and Michael Emerson found that Latter-day Saint, on average, donated 5.2% of their household income to charity, which was roughly twice what members of most other religious groups were giving.

Latter-day Saints are not required to pay a “full 10% tithe” to remain as members in good standing, but they are required to if they want to have access to the temple, where the religion’s most sacred rituals are performed.

Volunteering is also a cherished value. The LDS Church relies on volunteer labor to run its programs, since it has no paid clergy. Almost every job at the local level is performed by volunteers, some of whom spend many hours a week teaching classes, running meetings and planning events.

Since approximately three out of five residents Utahns are Latter-day Saints, it makes sense that Utah would perform well in the measures about financial generosity and volunteering.

But Utah ranked near the bottom on one of the 19 measures of the study: how many charities are located in the state compared to its population. Utah was 49th, just ahead of neighboring Nevada, because of how few independent charities it has within its borders.

This makes sense in the context of Mormonism as well, since the LDS Church spearheads so much of the charitable activity that happens in Utah. The church runs its own internal welfare program, keeps storehouses of food for needy members, and has a network of 44 Deseret Industries thrift stores to provide inexpensive clothing and furnishings, akin to Goodwill or the Salvation Army in other places. In 2019, Deseret Industries was responsible for nearly 3 million pounds of donated clothing and shoes, according to its website.

Rounding out the rest of WalletHub’s top five states were Minnesota, Maryland, Oregon and Ohio. The five “least charitable” states were Rhode Island, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico and Arizona.

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