Although he is in his 30s without any kids, Slate columnist Reihan Salam argues that parents deserve better tax treatment, even if that means hiking taxes on the childless.
"By shifting the tax burden from parents to nonparents, we will help give America’s children a better start in life, and we will help correct a simple injustice," Salam argues. "We all benefit from the work of parents. Each new generation reinvigorates our society with its youthful vim and vigor. ... The willingness of parents to bear and nurture children saves us from becoming an economically moribund nation of hateful curmudgeons. The least we can do is offer them a bigger tax break."
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that raising a child born in 2012 will cost a middle-income family a cumulative total of $301,970 over 18 years," Salam adds. "As high as this number sounds, it is actually a massive understatement, as it fails to take into account the cost of postsecondary education. It also fails to factor in the value of forgone earnings and career opportunities."
Salam points to a recent proposal by Utah Sen. Mike Lee to significantly increase the per-child benefits by adding a partially refundable $2,500 per-child tax credit to the existing $1,000 nonrefundable credit. That proposal, the Tax Policy Center notes, would significantly increase the federal deficit unless it were offset by tax increases on those without children in the home.
When Lee first made his proposal last year, there was skepticism about whether the numbers added up. Slate columnist Matt Yglasias was one skeptic, noting that for some reason childless couples seemed to have lower taxes under the proposal.
"If I weren't married," Yglasias wrote, "Lee would saddle me with a small tax hike thanks to the reduced value of the mortgage tax deduction. But I am married, so my wife and I — the very picture of Blue America decadence in Logan Circle with no kids — are in line for a tax cut.
"Now if it's actually true that you can meet all of Lee's goals consistent with giving me a small tax cut, then good for him. But I'm suspicious that what we've got here is simply a tax plan that doesn't add up. If Lee wants to collect accolades for this plan, he's going to need to get it rigorously scored by someone credible. The Tax Policy Center would be the ideal place to turn," Yglasias continued.
After scoring it, the Tax Policy Center decided the numbers did not add up, and would in fact add $2.4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. But TPC had some suggestions for fixing it:
"The Lee proposal could maintain its general framework and become revenue-neutral if its statutory tax rates were raised, the tax credits were scaled back or the tax base were broadened more aggressively. For example, the Tax Policy Center estimates that the proposal would be approximately revenue-neutral if the 35 percent tax bracket started at a taxable income of $50,000 for singles and $100,000 for married filers — substantially lower than the proposed $87,850 for singles and $175,500 for married filers."
In short, Salam is right. To offer a substantial tax boost to parents who are raising children, those who, like him, are not would have to take a substantial hit.