Why are folks in Idaho such big tippers?


People in the wealthiest places in America leave the chintziest tips, while people in modest places leave the most.

Time Magazine just published the results of a study from the payment company Square, which examined credit and debit card transactions at sellers nationwide. Tippers in Hawaii were the cheapest of all, followed by the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and California. These are places with among the highest incomes in the nation.

Hawaii, where people gave an average of 14.8 percent, likely also was influenced by the habits of tourists — outsiders who might also be considered among the wealthiest Americans. At least, they are wealthy enough to visit Hawaii.

By contrast, the highest tippers were in Idaho, leaving 17.4 percent on average. Arizona, West Virginia, Delaware and Indiana rounded out the top five. The top 10 included Mississippi and Kentucky.

Utah finished 26th at 16.6 percent.

You can look at this two ways. Either the rich are tight with money (how do you think they became rich?), or the food and service are really great in Idaho.

I vote for the former, with no offense intended to the fine eateries I’ve experienced in Boise.

A couple of years ago, the Chronicle of Philanthropy examined IRS data to find that, in the years after the great recession, the poor increased their charitable giving at a faster rate than the rich. They also may have different motivations. The poor tend not to itemize their giving on their income tax returns.

As the Deseret News reported, in 2011, people in the top 20 percent of earners gave 1.3 percent of their income to charity, on average. The bottom 20 percent gave 3.2 percent.

Overall contributions from the wealthy were much higher than those from the poor, of course. That’s because 1.3 percent of a lot is more than 3.2 percent of a little. But there also was a difference in how they gave.

The rich tended to give to foundations, non-profits, the arts, universities and similar institutions. The poor tended to give to churches and other charities, which quickly turned the money into help for the needy.

That study held another important lesson. It found that wealthy people became more generous as their exposure to the poor increased. Those who remained isolated in wealthy neighborhoods gave the least.

Maybe there is no direct correlation between this and the way people tip, or maybe it has everything to do with it. The wealthy may have the least sympathy for the plight of a frazzled food server, having never experienced such a job. That may make them more picky and demanding.

Interestingly, Alaska was the only top-10 income state to rank in the top 10 of tippers, as well. Maybe a proximity to gorgeous scenery is another factor in making one generous.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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