“It’s income tax time again, Americans: Time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil and stab yourself in the aorta.” — humorist Dave Barry.
An income tax is defined as a tax levied by a government directly on personal income. Passed by Congress on July 2, 1909 and ratified Feb. 3, 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution established the right of Congress to impose a federal income tax. Since then, about half of federal revenue has been generated from income tax collections.
But according to 2016 data from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center— a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. — 44 percent of Americans paid no federal tax.
It’s unclear if this data included the tens of thousands of federal employees who’ve failed to file tax returns for multiple years — as reported by Zachary Steiber in the Epoch Times on March 14, 2023. Steiber reported the number of delinquent federal workers has jumped to 149,000 — or about 5 percent of the federal civilian workforce. More than 19 percent of non-filers earn $100,000 or more, yet only 10 federal workers were penalized from the 2016 through 2020 fiscal years.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Aimee Picchi, a business reporter for CBS MoneyWatch wrote a Dec. 2, 2022 article headlined “The Labor Force is Shrinking.” Picchi identified a number of reasons for the trend: child care and health care issues, retirements and an unwillingness to work. She wrote:
“The dichotomy of job growth combined with a shrinking pool of workers underscores the tensions facing the U.S. economy at a precarious moment.”
Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote that for every 25- to 54-year-old person out of work and looking for a job in 2022, there were four people who were neither working nor looking for work. Eberstadt wrote: “Americans have been renowned for their work ethic, but the future of that work ethic should not be taken for granted.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor participate rate has fallen to an all-time low of 62 percent.
Eberstadt wrote: “What this trend has meant is slower economic growth for the country, wider income and wealth gaps, more dependence on government welfare programs, more pressure on fragile families, less mobility, less involvement in society and a lot more deaths of despair.”
Maybe the dread that accompanies payment of income tax is well-deserved. But along with dread can be a sense of unfairness when reading how many individuals choose not to pay taxes or work.
The federal government needs revenue to perform the basic role as identified in the Constitution. If the government continues to expand beyond the role established by our founders, there could come a time when even more citizens find ways to not pay income taxes. This trend of growing government programs on the backs of a declining number of taxpayers is unsustainable.
Free market policies that boost economic activity, incomes and wealth have demonstrated a bigger economy generates more tax revenue.
Curtailing frivolous and wasteful government spending might improve taxpayer attitudes about paying income taxes. Changing the incentive structures for those unwilling to work could result in more workers contributing to economic growth, societal stability and revenue.
Income taxes might be necessary.
But stop wasting taxpayer money.