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The Middle-Class Parent Penalty: Child Benefits in the US Tax Code

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 15

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  • David T. Ellwood
  • Jeffrey B. Liebman

Abstract

Low-income families with children receive large tax benefits from the Earned Income Tax Credit, while high income taxpayers receive large tax benefits from dependent exemptions (whose value is greater to those in higher tax brackets). In contrast, middle-income parents receive substantially smaller tax benefits associated with children. This U-shaped pattern of benefits by income, which we call the middle-class parent penalty,' not only raises issues of fairness; it also generates marginal tax rates and marriage penalties for moderate income families that are as high or higher than those facing more well-to-do taxpayers. This paper documents how the tax benefits of children vary with income, and illustrates their impact on marginal tax rates and marriage penalties. It then examines five options for reducing or eliminating the middle-class parent penalty and the high marginal tax rates and marriage penalties it produces.
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Suggested Citation

  • David T. Ellwood & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2001. "The Middle-Class Parent Penalty: Child Benefits in the US Tax Code," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 15, pages 1-40, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10853
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Gregory Acs & Eric Toder, 2007. "Should we subsidize work? Welfare reform, the earned income tax credit and optimal transfers," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 14(3), pages 327-343, June.
    2. Nicole Simpson & Devin Reilly & Kartik Athreya, 2010. "The Earned Income Tax Credit: Insurance Without Disincentives?," 2010 Meeting Papers 1103, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    3. Maggie R. Jones & Amy B. O’Hara, 2016. "Do Doubled-Up Families Minimize Household-Level Tax Burden?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 69(3), pages 613-640, September.
    4. Bruce D. Meyer, 2010. "The Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Recent Reforms," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 24, pages 153-180, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Mike Brewer & Paul Gregg, 2001. "Eradicating child poverty in Britain: welfare reform and children since 1997," IFS Working Papers W01/08, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    6. Kartik B. Athreya & Devin Reilly & Nicole B. Simpson, 2014. "Young Unskilled Women and the Earned Income Tax Credit: Insurance Without Disincentives?," Working Paper 14-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
    7. Batchelder Lily L. & Goldberg Fred T., 2008. "Reforming Tax Incentives Into Uniform Refundable Tax Credits," Basic Income Studies, De Gruyter, vol. 2(2), pages 1-11, January.
    8. Andrew Mitrusi & James M. Poterba, 2001. "The Changing Importance of Income and Payroll Taxes on US Families," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 15, pages 95-120, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Robert Fenge & Wolfgang Ochel, 2001. "Die Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Beruf: der Schlüssel für eine kinderreiche Gesellschaft," ifo Schnelldienst, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 54(12), pages 17-29, November.
    10. V. Joseph Hotz, 2003. "The Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Chapters, in: Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, pages 141-198, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. David T. Ellwood, 2001. "The Sputtering Labor Force of the 21st Century. Can Social Policy Help?," NBER Working Papers 8321, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Athreya, Kartik & Reilly, Devin & Simpson, Nicole B., 2014. "Single Mothers and the Earned Income Tax Credit: Insurance Without Disincentives?," IZA Discussion Papers 8114, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    13. Simpson, Nicole B., 2013. "Families, Taxes and the Welfare System," IZA Discussion Papers 7369, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    14. Kevin J. Mumford, 2007. "The Optimal Tax Treatment of Families with Children," Discussion Papers 06-020, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    15. Patricia Apps, 2006. "The New Discrimination and Childcare," CEPR Discussion Papers 541, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
    16. J. Sebastian Leguizamon, 2012. "Estimating Implicit Marginal Tax Rates of Welfare Recipients across the US States," Public Finance Review, , vol. 40(3), pages 401-430, May.
    17. Jeffrey B. Liebman & Daniel Ramsey, 2019. "Independent Taxation, Horizontal Equity, and Return-Free Filing," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 33, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure

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