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The Middle-Class Parent Penalty: Child Benefits in the U.S. Tax Code

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 15

  • David T. Ellwood
  • Jeffrey B. Liebman

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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This chapter was published in:
  • James M. Poterba, 2001. "Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 15," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pote01-1, May.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10853.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10853
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. Daniel R. Feenberg & Harvey S. Rosen, 1994. "Recent Developments in the Marriage Tax," NBER Working Papers 4705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Steuerle, C Eugene, 1990. "Tax Credits for Low-Income Workers with Children," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(3), pages 201-12, Summer.
    3. Martin Feldstein & James M. Poterba, 1996. "Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld96-1, May.
    4. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 1998. "Welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Labor Supply of Single Mothers," JCPR Working Papers 32, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    5. Nada Eissa & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1995. "Labor Supply Response to the Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Working Papers 5158, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Rebecca M. Blank & David Card & Philip K. Robins, 1999. "Financial Incentives for Increasing Work and Income Among Low- Income Families," HEW 9902002, EconWPA.
    7. Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1998. "The Impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Incentives and Income Distribution," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 12, pages 83-120 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. James Alm & Stacy Dickert-Conlin & Leslie A. Whittington, 1999. "Policy Watch: The Marriage Penalty," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(3), pages 193-204, Summer.
    9. William M. Gentry & Alison P. Hagy, 1996. "The Distributional Effects of the Tax Treatment of Child Care Expenses," NBER Chapters, in: Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation, pages 99-134 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Nada Eissa & Hilary Williamson Hoynes, 2000. "The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Labor Supply of Married Couples," Public Economics 9912001, EconWPA.
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