Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Kirk Stark (UCLA) & Eric Zolt (UCLA), We Don’t Need Tax Cuts for the Middle Class:
Amid the partisan rancor surrounding the framework for tax reform developed by GOP congressional leaders, there is one area of remarkable consensus: lower taxes for the middle class. The political logic is not hard to understand. The middle class continues to struggle, and, with midterm elections just around the corner, both parties need the support of middle-class voters.
But missing from the tax debate is an appreciation that lawmakers have already crafted a tax-friendly regime for middle-income taxpayers. The result is a more progressive tax system that raises less revenue. Unless Congress is willing to dramatically cut major entitlement programs and eschew new social programs to address poverty and declining economic mobility, we need moretax revenue from the middle class, not less.
Middle-class tax burdens are at historic lows. The Congressional Budget Office reported in 2016 that the average federal income tax rate for the middle class — here meaning the middle 60 percent of the income distribution — declined from 7.8 percent in 1979 to 3.4 percent in 2013. Focusing on all federal taxes (not just income taxes), the average tax rate dropped from 19.2 to 13.8 percent over the same period. With these lower tax rates, the share of taxes paid by the middle class has also declined. The middle class paid 35 percent of income taxes in 1979 but only 16 percent in 2013, while its share of all federal taxes fell from 43 to 30 percent.
Tax burdens on the American middle class are low not only by historical standards, but also in comparison with other developed countries. Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reveal that American families with children face substantially lower average income-tax rates (in some cases, less than half) than similar families in other developed countries. And this is before factoring in consumption taxes, which represent a large share of middle-class tax burdens in most countries, but not in the United States. ...
How a country raises revenue strongly influences how the money is spent. Countries with more comprehensive social programs impose higher taxes on the middle class. Paradoxically, then, we may need less progressive taxes to fund more progressive spending programs.
So enough of the middle-class tax cuts. It is time for a new fiscal strategy.