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“Our Nation’s Biggest Shame”: How Much Money Would It Take To Eliminate Poverty In America?

Last week, the Census Bureau put out its annual income and poverty figures for 2012. The big news on the poverty front is that the percentage of Americans living in poverty is unchanged at 15 percent, which amounts to 46.5 million Americans. More than one in five kids under the age of 18 are in poverty, and nearly one in four kids under the age of six are impoverished as well. These are numbers we’ve all become accustomed to, but they can still shock the conscience if you make an effort to let them soak in again.

The sheer scale of poverty in the U.S. is so massive that it can seem as if eliminating or dramatically reducing it would be nearly impossible. After all, 46 million people is a lot of people. But in reality, if we stick to the official poverty line, the amount of money standing in the way of poverty eradication is much lower than people realize.

In its annual poverty report, the Census Bureau includes a table that few take note of which actually details by how much families are below the poverty line. A little multiplication and addition later, and the magic number pops out. In 2012, the number was $175.3 billion. That is how many dollars it would take to bring every person in the United States up to the poverty line. In 2012, that number was just 1.08 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is to say the overall size of the economy.

To be sure, you probably don’t want to run a program that hunts out every family below the poverty line and brings them right up to it. Such a program would effectively involve imposing a 100 percent marginal tax rate for all income made below the poverty line. But, things like strategically expanding the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, and related programs could make enormous strides toward poverty reduction. Implementing a mild basic income and a negative income tax would also help a great deal. The policy solutions for dramatically cutting poverty exist, they are used by countries elsewhere, and they could be used here, if we chose to do so.

It might be helpful to put the $175.3 billion magic number in perspective. In 2012, this number was just one-fourth of the $700 billion the federal government spent on the military. When you start hunting through the submerged spending we do through the tax code, it takes you no time to find enough tax expenditures geared toward the affluent to get to that number as well. The utterly ridiculous tax expenditures directed toward the disproportionately affluent class of people called homeowners—mortgage interest deduction, property tax deduction, exclusion of capital gains on residences—by themselves sum to $115.3 billion in 2012. Throw in the $117.3 billion in tax expenditures used to subsidize employer-based health care (also a disproportionate sop to the rich), and you’ve already eclipsed the magic number.

Eradicating or dramatically cutting poverty is not the deeply complicated intractable problem people make it out to be. The dollars we are talking about are minuscule up against the size of our economy. We have poverty because we choose to have it. We choose to design our distributive institutions in ways that generate poverty when we could design them in ways that don’t. Its continued existence is totally indefensible and our nation’s biggest shame.

 

By: Matt Bruenig, The American Prospect, September 24, 2013

September 26, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Morally Inept: The New GOP Resentment Of The Poor

In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party’s most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.

These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama’s payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.

Until fairly recently, Republicans, at least, have been fairly consistent in their position that tax cuts should benefit everyone. Though the Bush tax cuts were primarily for the rich, they did lower rates for almost all taxpayers, providing a veneer of egalitarianism. Then the recession pushed down incomes severely, many below the minimum income tax level, and the stimulus act lowered that level further with new tax cuts. The number of families not paying income tax has risen from about 30 percent before the recession to about half, and, suddenly, Republicans have a new tool to stoke class resentment.

Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the “injustice” that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax.

Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game.”

This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010.

Economically, reducing the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — which would be required if everyone paid income taxes — makes no sense at a time of high unemployment. The credits, which only go to working people, have always been a strong incentive to work, as even some conservative economists say, and have increased the labor force while reducing the welfare rolls.

The moral argument would have been obvious before this polarized year. Nearly 90 percent of the families that paid no income tax make less than $40,000, most much less. The real problem is that so many Americans are struggling on such a small income, not whether they pay taxes. The two tax credits lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty in 2009, including four million children. At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.

By: Editorial, The New York Times, August 30, 2011

September 1, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Credits, Tax Hike Prevention Act 2010, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Unemployed, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tax Hike Prevention Act of 2010: How It Affects You

Now that President Obama has signed the Tax Hike Prevention Act of 2010, taxpayers will have some certainty about their tax situation, if only for the next 24 months.

The new law contains a bevy of tax breaks — new and extended — and emergency help for the jobless. Its cost over 10 years is estimated at $858 billion.

Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest ticket items that will affect individuals. (Except where noted, all provisions are for 2011 and 2012).

Extended income tax rates: $207.5 billion. The six federal income tax rates will remain at the same levels they are today: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35%. In addition, itemized deductions will continue to be allowed in full for high-income taxpayers.

AMT fix: $147 billion. More than 20 million tax filers will be protected from having to pay the so-called “wealth tax,” otherwise known as the Alternative Minimum Tax. For tax year 2010, the bill will raise the amount of income that is exempt from the reach of the AMT to $47,450 for individuals and to $72,450 for couples filing jointly. In 2011, those exemption amounts will increase to $48,450 and $74,450 respectively. In addition, the bill will allow taxpayers to apply nonrefundable credits (which reduce one’s tax bill dollar for dollar) to their tax liability — whether under the AMT or the regular tax code.

Social Security tax break: $112 billion. Workers will get a 2 percentage-point break on their payroll tax for one year. Instead of paying 6.2% on wages up to $106,800, they will only have to pay 4.2% in 2011. This tax break replaces the Making Work Pay credit, which expires this year. Unlike Making Work Pay, which was limited to workers making less than $75,000 ($150,000 for couples), the payroll tax holiday will be available to everyone who pays into Social Security.

Expanded child tax credit: $90 billion. The bill will retain the $1,000 child tax credit (up from $500 before the Bush tax cuts). It also will retain the reduced-earnings threshold, which allows more people to claim the credit as refundable. A refundable tax credit is one paid to a tax filer even if the value of the credit exceeds his tax liability. So if a filer doesn’t owe any federal income tax but qualifies for the credit, it is paid to him in the form of a refund.

Smaller estate tax: $68 billion. Barring any changes, the estate tax in 2011 and 2012 will be reinstated at an exemption level of $1 million and a top rate of 55%. But under the bill, the exemption level will be raised to $5 million and the top rate lowered to 35%. The legislation will also reinstate the so-called “step up in basis” for beneficiaries of those who die in 2010, 2011 or 2012. A stepped-up basis means that when someone sells an inherited asset, his capital gains tax bill will be based on the asset’s price the day he inherited it, rather than when the decedent originally bought it. Practically speaking that means the beneficiaries of those who died in 2010 will be allowed to choose which estate tax rules to follow — those of 2011 or those of 2010. Under 2010 rules, there is no estate tax but also no step-up rules; there is only an option to exempt $1.3 million worth of capital gains from tax.

Help for the jobless: $57 billion. The unemployed will get a 13-month extension of the deadline to file for additional unemployment benefits — which go as high as 99 weeks in states hit hardest by job loss.

Extended investment tax rates: $53 billion. Everybody will get to keep their low investment tax rates for the next two years. For most people, that means their qualified capital gains and dividends will continue to be taxed at 15%. Low-income tax filers (those in the 10% and 15% brackets), however, will continue to enjoy a 0% tax rate on their capital gains or dividends.

Marriage penalty relief: $27 billion. Marriage will still be hard (sorry), but not because less-than-wealthy two-earner couples will owe more to the IRS than they did when they were single. The bill continues to ensure that the standard deduction for couples is exactly twice that for single filers. It also maintains an expanded 15% tax bracket so that the amount of income in that bracket for joint filers is exactly double that for single filers.

Expanded college credit: $18 billion. Paying for college tuition in 2011 and 2012 will be made a bit easier with the retention of the American Opportunity tax credit, which is an expansion of the HOPE tax credit. The Opportunity credit is worth up to $2,500 (up to 100% of the first $2,000 spent and up to 25% of the next $2,500), and it may be claimed for four years’ worth of college. Eligibility to take the credit is limited to those with modified adjusted gross income below $90,000 ($180,000 for couples filing jointly).

Individual tax break extensions: Costs vary. The legislation will extend a number of tax breaks that have been introduced in the past few years such as the option to deduct on one’s federal return state and local sales tax instead of state and local income tax — at a cost of $6 billion. Also, it will extend a deduction for qualified tuition and other education-related expenses at a cost of $1.2 billion. Less pricey extensions include a break for teachers to deduct up to $250 in classroom expenses (just under $400 million).

By: Jeanne Sahadi, Senior Writer-CNNMoney.com, December 17, 2010

December 17, 2010 Posted by | Tax Hike Prevention Act 2010 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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