WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – Religious institutions have a greater impact on the U.S. economy than many large corporations, the authors of a new study have claimed.
Dr. Brian Grim of Georgetown University and his daughter, Melissa Grim, of the Newseum Institute argue in a 31-page summary of the study – the first of its kind – that religious institutions and their associated ministries contribute as much as $378 billion directly to the economy.
Those dollars — more than Apple, Google and Facebook combined — when multiplied across the economy, have an indirect and induced impact larger than Mexico's entire gross domestic product ($1.44 trillion).
The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis examines "the economic impact of 344,000 religious congregations around the country, in addition to quantifying the economic impact of religious institutions and religion-related businesses," a news release about the study said.
Religious spending, the authors claim, is especially resilient and somewhat immune from downturns in the economy because churches, religiously-affiliated hospitals, and religious schools continue to operate and spend money. In fact, in spite of the recession and sluggish economy since 2008, religious spending on congregations and social programs has increased three-fold in the past 15 years.
According to the study, charities – most of them Christian – have launched 130,000 alcohol and drug abuse programs, 94,000 programs for veterans and their families, 26,000 programs for HIV/AIDS prevention and support, and 121,000 programs for job training and developing employable skills in adults.
Health care organizations, such as Catholic hospital systems, contribute the most to the national economy. In addition to health care, however, other Christian-owned or "faith-based" businesses employ thousands and spend millions of dollars. These businesses are also not used exclusively by believers either.
"For the first time, we have been able to quantify what religious institutions, faith-based charities, and even businesses inspired by faith contribute to our country," Dr. Grim said in Washington at the National Press Club Sept. 14.
"In an age where there's a growing belief that religion is not a positive for American society, adding up the numbers is a tangible reminder of the impact of religion. Every single day individuals and organizations of faith quietly serve their communities as part of religious congregations, faith-based charities, and businesses inspired by religion."
The Grims looked at previous censuses of U.S. churches, synagogues and other houses of worship (including Shinto, Tao and Zoroastrian). They found that the 344,894 congregations were made up of nearly half of the American population and the average house of worship pulled in $242,000 per year.
All told, church members tithed or donate about $75 million to their congregations each year.
Among religious charities, the YMCA operated with revenues of $6.6 billion nationwide.