Taxing the Family

It's tax day, and here are a few tax facts that may surprise you-and trouble you. Fact #1: In 1950 the personal exemption was the government's way of providing real financial relief for families with children. The value of the personal exemption for a family of four was 38 percent of annual family income. Today, due to inflation, it has dropped to only 12 percent of family income. As a result, the federal tax burden has shifted onto families with children. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation says that after taxes, families with children are now the lowest income group in America. Fact #2: The child-care credit gives a tax break only to parents who pay for child care. There's no break for parents who raise their own children-even though they may pay just as much indirectly through the loss of a second income. Rector calls this a "parenting penalty": Families who care for their own children are in effect subsidizing wealthier, dual-career families who place their children in hired care. Fact #3: In 1950 a median-income family with two children paid only 2 percent of its annual gross earnings to the federal government in income and payroll taxes. Today, the same family pays 24 percent. Add another 8 percent in state and local taxes, and families pay 32 percent of their income in taxes. From 2 percent to 32 percent! Sociologists tell us parents spend 40 percent less time with their children than in 1965. Surely one reason is the enormous increase in the tax burden, which is forcing more parents into the work force. Fact #4: The average after-tax income of a working wife and mother is about 32 percent of total family income. Now consider: Taxes have gone up to 32 percent of average family income; employed mothers earn 32 percent of family income. What does that tell us? Mothers are flooding the work force primarily to cover higher taxes. This ought to make us angry. Babies are being placed in substitute care and families are spending less time together . . . all to pay off Uncle Sam. It's a bad situation for babies, it's bad for families, and ultimately it's bad for Uncle Sam as well. Decreased parental supervision is linked to problems in language skills, school performance, and internalization of moral values-problems that affect the social climate for all of us. So today as you sign your return to the IRS, think beyond your bank balance. Tax codes express a society's values. Behavior the government wants to discourage, it taxes more heavily, because a tax acts as a penalty. Behavior the government wants to encourage it taxes less. What values does our current tax policy express? The tax code penalizes couples for having children, and it penalizes them again if they leave the work force to raise their children. Our federal government is acting as though its goal is to encourage a self-centered, yuppie lifestyle. In a democracy we have an obligation to pay our taxes. But we also have an obligation to use our votes to make sure our laws-including the tax code-express values based on God's Word. Values that strengthen America's fragile families.


Chuck Colson


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