How generous are Angelenos compared to others when it comes to charitable giving?
It turns out that Los Angeles residents are more giving, on average, than residents in the state and nation overall. Angelenos who itemized their charitable deductions and earned at least $50,000 gave an average of 5.5 percent of their disposable income in 2008, compared to 4.7 percent nationwide and 4.4 percent statewide, according to a report released last year by the Washington, D.C.-based The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The "How America Gives" report offers the most detailed geographic information on charitable giving available and can be found at http://philanthropy.com/section/How-America-Gives/621/.
The comparative data isn't just an interesting insight into how people give. For Los Angeles charities, it's also "really helpful in helping them see where the giving is coming from in their community and it might help them make decisions on which neighborhoods they want to target their fundraising in," said Peter Panepento, assistant managing editor for The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The report's data is based on dollar amounts released by the IRS showing the value of charitable deductions claimed by American taxpayers in 2008, which is the most recent year this specific data is available. While not everyone itemizes their deductions, the donations in these returns account for more than 60 percent of the $214 billion that the Giving USA Foundation estimates individuals contributed that year, according to The Chronicle.
In the San Fernando Valley, average giving ranged from about 4 percent of discretionary income in Simi Valley and Calabasas ZIP codes to about 5 percent in Lancaster and about 5.5 percent in Glendale. Meanwhile, in Beverly Hills, residents gave an average of about 7 percent of their discretionary income. Countywide, the average was 5.3 percent.
However, in a surprising trend, the report found that middle-class Americans donate a much larger share of their discretionary income to charities than the wealthy.
In Los Angeles, households earning between $50,000 and $100,000 donated an average of 8.5 percent of their discretionary income, while those earning at least $200,000 donated nearly 5 percent.
The same held true in the diverse San Fernando Valley, where residents in one Calabasas ZIP code who made between $50,000 and $100,000 donated 14 percent of their discretionary income while those earning at least $200,000 in the same area donated 3.6 percent.
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy estimates that roughly 50 percent of the nation's total annual giving comes from high-net-worth individuals, which are those earning incomes greater than $200,000 and/or have a net worth of $2 million or more excluding primary residence. In some years this figure could be as much as two-thirds, however, and in other years, it can be lower, a spokeswoman said.
Exposure brings greater giving
In another compelling trend, the report found that wealthy people who live in economically diverse ZIP codes with a significant mix of incomes tend to donate at a higher percentage of their disposable income than wealthy people who live in wealthier ZIP codes.
Households earning $200,000 and up and living in the ritzy Beverly Hills ZIP code of 90213 gave nearly 4 percent of their discretionary income while those in the same income bracket but living in the more economically mixed central L.A. ZIP code of 90004 gave nearly 12 percent, according to the data.
"Essentially, it's basically exposure," Panepento said. "If you are around people who are in need and you see that need, you're more likely to be affected by it than if you're insulated from it."
And while some reined in their charitable giving during the recession, Charles Schwartz said he was so struck by the images of poverty that he saw around him that he felt compelled to dig deeper into his wallet.
For nearly 25 years, the systems engineer, a senior project leader at The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, has had a portion of his paycheck withdrawn each week to support United Way charities. The Santa Monica resident also gives to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, the nonprofit Big Sunday and even the needy mothers with children that he sees begging on the side of the road.
"I have such a good job, I actually stepped up my giving" during the recession, said Schwartz, who grew up in the impoverished South Bronx and whose own family once had to rely on welfare. "I realized that a lot of charities are having trouble and people are having trouble, with the news, the media showing destitute people, people losing their homes." ___