Taxes and the poor: A microsimulation study of implicit and explicit taxes
J. K. Scholz
The authors measure the cumulative burden on low-income households resulting from explicit taxes (state and federal income, and payroll taxes) and implicit taxes (reductions of program benefits as earnings rise). With monthly data from the 1990 Survey of Income and Program Participation, a simulation model calculates the benefits and taxes households receive and pay in 1990. A household's marginal tax rate is established by simulating the benefits and taxes the household would receive and pay if each member aged 15 or more received additional earnings of $10 per month. The changes in income that would result if all household members age 15 or older took a half-time, minimum-wage job are also calculated. Typical cumulative marginal tax rates on poor households are found to be about 27 percent, but this masks considerable variation across states as a result of differences in program eligibility rules, state income taxes, and state AFDC policies. The tax burdens resulting from taking a half-time minimum-wage job also vary greatly across states, and participants in AFDC and food stamps face median marginal tax rates significantly above the rates for all poor households. A consistent result, however, is that typical tax rates on the poor rarely exceed 60 percent when income changes resulting from incremental changes in monthly earnings are calculated. The authors conclude that for most poor households, tax rates are not so high as to diminish the possible effectiveness of such policies as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which try to make work more attractive than welfare.
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