Don’t trust journalists to do math–or taxes

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on December 18, 2010

Wyatt Emmerich is a publisher of a variety of small community newspapers in Mississippi. He exists and a recent column of his was in fact printed in a The Cleveland Current – a newspaper that he does not own.

Having said all that, don’t have Emmerich do your taxes. Emmerich created the chart below to illustrate the claim that a single parent of 3 making $60,000 had less after-tax income than a single parent of 3 making $14,500 after all the public assistance benefits are added in.

Even if you take all the public assistance figures as 100 percent accurate (something I’m no longer willing to take on faith), Emmerich made a rudimentary mistake in calculating the tax rates. For a reminder, here’s his chart:

Take a look at that $109 Mississippi income tax in the first column. That should be $0. The Mississippi tax rate is 3 percent on taxable income from $0 to $5,000. And here’s where Emmerich made his mistake --  you need to take deductions first. If you add in the standard deduction along with the exemptions for the parent and the theoretical 3 kids, someone making $3,625 had $0 in taxable income.  In fact, if you add in the 2010 standard deduction for head of household ($8,400) along with the standard exemptions ($3,650 x 4), there’s no tax on the first $23,000 of income for this family of four.

Now, that makes the numbers go up for the people in the first three columns because the government isn’t taking the money in federal and state income taxes that are portrayed there. You might think that would make the situation even better for Emmerich’s thesis, but it doesn’t. Because those same mistakes benefit the hypothetical $60,000 earner even more.

Once you figure in all those standard deductions and exemptions in to the $60,000 earner, their federal income and payroll taxes isn’t $13,000 it’s closer to $8,000. Looking at the Mississippi state tax, it’s not $3,000; it’s closer to $2,000.

If you make those changes, then the $60,000 earner’s “Total Economic Benefit” is over $40,000 while the $14,500 earner is closer to $38,500-$39,000.

Now, those numbers are still too close. If you think about all the extra work that the higher earner has to do and all the time they don’t get to spend with their family, it’s still grossly unfair. From a strictly economic perspective (there is a moral perspective that’s quite different), there are few who wouldn’t trade an extra $2,000 to $3,000 a year for the additional time off.

Nevertheless, Emmerich’s numbers are still wrong.

One comment on “Don’t trust journalists to do math–or taxes”

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Perfectly said: “It’s not that the statue had become unworthy of the museum. It’s that the museum had become unworthy of the statue. “ https://www.nysun.com/editorials/theodore-roosevelt-back-to-the-badlands/91960/

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