Here are three recent headlines that indicate some important trends for which our existing US income tax rules mostly run contrary to.
- "Weighing Costs, Companies Favor Temporary Help," by Motoko Rich, New York Times, 12/19/10
- "Does part-time work pay?" by Anne Saint-Martin and Danielle Venn, OECD Observer, July 2010 (July! - I must be a bit behind in my reading.)
- "AXA Equitable Study Shows New Retirement Reality - People Will Work Longer" by AXA Equitable (12/16/10)
Our tax system tends to favor full-time, long-term work. Here are some reasons why I say this:
- For decades, the income tax has encouraged employer-provided health insurance via the employee exclusion for it. This is viewed as increasing health care coverage but also costs and inefficiencies (see, among various reports, (1) CRS report on the exclusion (Nov.2008) and (2) President Bush Tax Reform Advisory Board final report, Chapter 5, pages 78 - 82 (2005). High costs for employers tends to lead them to only make health care insurance to full-time workers and not part-time workers. The system, increases health care coverage which particularly hurts individuals buying insurance on their own.
- Greater use of defined contribution benefit plans over defined benefit plans. With workers uncertain as to how much retirement savings they need, this trend creates challenges. (Nellen, 401(k) Concerns and Ideas, AICPA Tax Insider, 11/13/08)
- Worker classification rules that make it difficult or impossible to hire most temporary workers as independent contractors which would be simpler for tax purposes. The classification scheme is premised partially on the notion that employee status is preferable to better ensure tax compliance. A tax system that allows for greater classification flexibility along with rules that provide greater assurance that appropriate taxes are paid would better reflect workforce realities. Basically, if we want to be sure income and payroll taxes are paid and some minimal "safety net" is available, why not rewrite the rules to reach this result?
- Rules for the exclusion for employer-provided health care, 401(k) and other retirement plan contributions, tend to benefit high income taxpayers more due to their higher tax bracket. Modifications to these rules, such as converting them to tax credits, would enable this "cost" to be spread out over more individuals.
- Unreimbursed work-related expenses are only deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions to the extent they exceed 2% of AGI. This is a high threshold and most workers can't deduct work-related costs. Temporary workers are likely to have more expenses due to the nature of their work.
If tax reform factors in economic, societal and environmental trends, the tax system should then be able to work in support of such trends and not contrary to them which arguably should increase economic efficiency.