How meaningful is the “family of four” tax stat?

Four-person families paid historically low income taxes this year. But how does that family compare to ones past?

Topics: Taxes, Big Question,

How meaningful is the "family of four" tax stat?

The news this Tax Day is that, for the second year in a row, a family of four earning the median income is paying less in federal income taxes than at any time since at least 1955, according to the Tax Policy Center.

But does this actually mean anything? After all, since 1955, a multiplicity of family types has proliferated, with many different earning situations. Does “family of four” mean anything like what it meant back then?

In 1955 “family of four” described a single-earner nuclear unit: a married man and woman with two children.

“We’re certainly more heterogeneous these days,” New York University’s Wayne Professor of Taxation, Daniel Shaviro, told Salon.

Yet, look to the footnotes of the Census Bureau information, and you will note that despite demographic changes, a “family of four” today still means the very same thing it did over 60 years ago: Mommy, Daddy and two kids.

“All calculations are for a married couple and income is assumed to be earned by one spouse,” the Tax Policy Center website notes.



But in 2005, according to census data, 42 percent of families had two income earners, and around 34 percent of children lived in single-parent families. Of course, this does not change the fact that taxes are historically low. But the “four person family” statistic does not pay attention to the fact that a dual-earner family is dually burdened with Social Security taxes and cannot claim the same spousal benefits. As Shaviro noted, “Secondary earners are taxed fairly highly.”

There is nothing misleading about analyzing the income tax burden of a married couple with two children with just one earning spouse. It is mistaken, however, to assume that is what’s understood by the term “family of four” in 2011.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Rose Jay via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Labrador Retriever

    These guys are happy because their little brains literally can't grasp the concept of global warming.

    Hysteria via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    German Shepherd

    This momma is happy to bring her little guy into the world, because she doesn't know that one day they'll both be dead.

    Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Golden Retriever

    I bet these guys wouldn't be having so much fun if they knew the sun was going to explode one day.

    WilleeCole Photography via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Bulldog

    This dude thinks he's tough, but only because nobody ever told him about ISIS.

    Soloviova Liudmyla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Beagle

    This little lady is dreaming about her next meal-- not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Labrador Photo Video via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Yorkshire Terrier

    This trusting yorkie has never even heard the name "Bernie Madoff."

    Pavla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Poodle

    She is smiling so widely because she is too stupid to understand what the Holocaust was.

    Aneta Pics via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Boxer

    Sure, frolic now, man. One day you're going to be euthanized and so is everyone you love.

    Dezi via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    French Bulldog

    He's on a casual afternoon stroll because he is unfamiliar with the concept of eternity.

    Jagodka via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Rottweiler

    Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be this care-free? But we can't because we are basically all indirectly responsible for slavery.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>