Should We Tax The Childless?


Reihan Salam, writing for Slate, thinks we should:

So now, as a childless professional in my mid-30s, I often reflect on the sacrifices working parents make to better the lives of their children. And I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I ought to pay much higher taxes so that working parents can pay much lower taxes. I believe this even though I also believe a not inconsiderable share of my tax dollars are essentially being set on fire by our frighteningly incompetent government. Leviathan is here to stay, whether I like it or not, and someone has to pay for it. That someone should be me, and people like me.

Who should pay more? Nonparents who earn more than the median household income, just a shade above $51,000. By shifting the tax burden from parents to nonparents, we will help give America’s children a better start in life, and we will help correct a simple injustice. We all benefit from the work of parents. Each new generation reinvigorates our society with its youthful vim and vigor. As my childless friends and I grow crankier and more decrepit, a steady stream of barely postpubescent brainiacs writes catchy tunes and invents breakthrough technologies that keep us entertained and make us more productive. The willingness of parents to bear and nurture children saves us from becoming an economically moribund nation of hateful curmudgeons. The least we can do is offer them a bigger tax break.

Raising children is not exactly a thankless undertaking, I realize. As many parents will tell you, the satisfactions of parenting can be their own reward. Parents appear to be very into the supposed cuteness of their progeny. I wouldn’t know, but that’s the word on the street. We as a culture still hold parents, and particularly working parents, in high esteem.

Yet it is also true that we’ve stacked the deck against parents in all kinds of ways. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that raising a child born in 2012 will cost a middle-income family a cumulative total of $301,970 over 18 years. As high as this number sounds, it is actually a massive understatement, as it fails to take into account the cost of postsecondary education. It also fails to factor in the value of forgone earnings and career opportunities.

As a father myself I can’t say that I’m entirely objective when it comes to this policy. Having kids is wildly expensive, and a lower tax burden would certainly help on that front.

That being said, I’m generally suspicious of the use of tax the tax code for this sort of social engineering. Taxes should be used to efficiently raise revenue for the functions of government. They should not be used to manipulate the behaviors of citizens.

When they are used in that fashion, the outcomes are usually pretty far from what was intended and not very positive.

Besides, how is taxing someone for not having children any less odious than taxing someone because they don’t eat their broccoli? Or, ahem, don’t buy health insurance?

We walk a treacherous road when we begin allowing the government to punish with taxation behaviors that don’t conform to how the government would have us behave.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Matthew Hawkins

    Families already get a tax break for children.

    • John_Wayne_American

      I was thinking the same thing as I read the article, we give earned income tax credits based on number of children, so wouldn’t the inverse of a tax credit to people with children… be a tax on those that do not?

      How about abolishing both Obummerchare and the earned Tax Credit, and give tax credits for the partial reimbursement of Health insurance Premiums… ?

      Solves a couple of issues, and costs the same.

      The Insurance Co.s would be fine tuning plans all over to match however much the Gov. is giving in reimbursments.

      • Rob

        I tend to think that taxes should be broad. Government impacts all of us, so we should all pay for it. And thus, tax relief should also be broad.

        IF we’re going to lower taxes, lower them for everyone.

        • Matthew Hawkins

          So families with children use more public services, so we should tax families with children higher.

          • Rob

            Depends on the tax.

            I don’t think people with children should have to pay more income tax, but the income tax in general is terrible.

            We should go to a consumption tax. People with children buy a lot of things for their kids and would pay taxes on the purchases.

            I think we’d be better off if we stopped taxing productivity, and taxed commerce which would also encourage saving.

          • The Whistler

            Well they’re going to get you anyway. You might be buying pampers but your childless neighbors are spending their money on something else, like travel.

            A more important thing is to get the federal government out of everyone’s lives. We’d be rich and more able to take care of ourselves if it didn’t take so much of our hard earned money.

          • matthew_bosch

            hmm…a consumption tax would make taxation simplistic and simplicity would breed a sort of transparency. But what would all the lobbyists do for work?

          • JoeMN

            So you believe those without children should be (in the spirit of Obama’s words) “punished with a baby” ?

          • two_amber_lamps

            But of course!

            “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

            -Karl Marx

          • Drain52

            See above. Those kids will be paying for all the government programs you’ll be on, as well as covering the interest on the debt we’re piling up now. In all fairness, they will be justified in telling us to go to hell for partying all our lives on their credit cards.

    • The Whistler

      And people without children already pitch in for benefits such as education and any aid going to children who’s parents who aren’t willing to pay for their childrens. (sic)

      So anyway, we’re told by this person that a child costs $300,000 to raise. So a family with three kids pays $900,000. Divided by 18 that gives a figure of $50,000.

      So exactly how do people with three kids make it with cash incomes of under $50,000? If you add in a like amount for the parents you’d have to have close to a six figure income to live on.

      I’m just pointing out that the official statistics are usually made up.

      • Drain52

        The numbers are indeed bogus. I couldn’t begin to spend that kind of money on my kids. What’s more, co-workers who are offspring or parents of huge immigrant families seem to find a way to get by spending far, far less than the numbers suggested above, even including all the government aid they get.

    • Drain52

      One that covers a few percentage points of the cost of raising children.

  • The Fighting Czech

    heres a novel idea… If you want kids you pay for them. if you cant pay for them, dont have them. its really that simple.

    • ec99

      But this would require self-responsibility, which the government punishes.

  • Yukon

    Interesting how nothing was mentioned that in the real world work force, childless workers usually are covering for the parents. My experience, childless workers are ones that have to stay late or cover shifts when a parent has to go home because of a sick child. Fair or not, parenthood is more socially acceptable than childless and are expected to be given more latitude when it comes to time off. I’ve managed for 15+ years and my more dependable workers were always the childless employees, parents always add untimely problems to management.

    • The Fighting Czech

      I agree…
      At my previous job, I was expected to holidays “because you dont have any kids” it was just assumed I had nothing better to do then work, Mostly I didnt mind working for people with kids. but what I really started to resent was the attitude that I was expected to do so, not appreciation for my help… It tends to put a bitter taste in ones mouth.

      • Drain52

        Your irritation is understandable. On the other hand, your co-workers’ kids will be paying for your SS and Medicare. Think of your filling in as an investment.

        • yy4u2

          In a real world, the kids would be knowledgeable enough to make their own investments and the free market would take care of “medi-scare” because education would get so diverse that they may even learn real concrete concepts like personal responsibility and charity from the heart not from the gun of an IRS agent.

  • Bike bubba

    Speaking as the homeschooling father of six, I’ll be pretty happy if some of my kids take my wife and I in when (not if, WHEN) Socialist Insecurity and Medicare collapse. Hopefully they’ll be able to clean my bedpan well. :^)

    • WOOF

      Your wife’s a hero of the nation.

    • matthew_bosch

      An interesting notion. The family unit support its members when they are in need as opposed to a uninterested bureaucrat who is simply biding their time in order to reach a tax payer funded pension at 55.

      • Bike bubba

        I’d argue it’s not just an interesting notion; if the actuaries are correct–and no actuary using plausible estimates says anything different to my knowledge–it is an upcoming reality. Those of us who don’t want to die in a puddle of our own excrement need to realize that we are, like it or not, going to be paying for a good portion of our retirement. Might as well accept it now and prepare for it.
        And it’s a reality because of a simple fact; low information voters take the government seriously when it says “we’ll pick up the tab”, thus destroying the actuarial assumptions the government uses to justify the programs. In the case of Social Security, it induced many to skip having children, who are the traditional way of providing for one’s older years. In doing so, they destroyed the very tax base Social Security and Medicare need to function.
        (not the only factors, but this is a biggie, along with Roe v. Wade)

        • matthew_bosch

          Beware Central Planners with empty promises of security.

          • Bike bubba

            Were those last five words really necessary? I’m thinking “Beware of Central Planners” suffices, no? :^)

  • Bike bubba

    Seriously, my take is that the government has fouled the nest mightily trying to help families, and they have fouled the nest mightily trying to help single people. I would be very happy if they’d just stop doing about 15% of the stupid stuff they’re doing and let us keep the money they’re using to do it. Are we to pretend, for example, that daycare subsidies are really a benefit to families–or is it really just a way to get moms out in the workforce and raise tax revenues? Let’s be serious here; people trying to help you out of someone else’s pockets tend to make dumb decisions.

  • WOOF

    We should be subsidizing breeding.
    The current population of the People’s Republic of China
    is estimated to be approximately 1.354 billion.
    India, Pakistan, Brazil….. on and on.

    • yy4u2

      We do. It’s called welfare, headstart, food stamps, etc.

      • WOOF

        Weak broth, if you want a strong nation.

        • yy4u2

          We have been in atrophy for decades. Keep whimpering, Woofy.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    Admittedly I’m single and childless. But, I do not agree on shifting extra tax burden to the single and childless. (Besides, I think those with dependents already get a tax deduction?)

    I should pay my share. I may not have kids in school, but I should help pay for it because I benefit from it. But I should not pay extra just because I chose to put my career ahead of having a family.

    On the other hand, I don’t favor charging those with children extra just because they use more government resources than I do. Why not have everyone pay the same tax burden? (And I’m not getting into details of different methods of tax collection with that last comment. I’m being general.)

    In the area of children, the current tax system has it right: don’t play favorites because of children.

  • SDJammer

    The conservative principle that applies when it comes to taxes is simply “fair for one – fair for all”. Also, if the decision is made to have a tax of any kind, then that tax should do one thing and one thing only and that is to raise revenue for the taxing authority. Taxes should never be used to influence behavior.

    So, if you are going to tax incomes, it should be a FLAT tax. All income should be counted the same and one tax rate apply to everyone. No deductions, no exemptions.

    If you are going to tax consumption, the tax should be broad based and apply to everything sold.

    Regardless of the type of tax, keep rates as low as possible, but tax everything. When everybody has some skin in the “tax” game, a lot better decisions are made on what the tax rate should be and what the money should be spent on. As soon as you start making exceptions and different rates, the system gets out of whack and you are immediately into class warfare as the “takers” all want higher taxes and the “payers” all want lower taxes.

  • moors710

    The problem is that we have universal pensions that encourage people to be childless. What we need to do is

    1. stop the pension for everyone under 40. No social security, no subsidy for pensions.

    2. tax everyone identically.

    Social engineering forces people into trouble.

    If people depart from a rational system it takes about four generations for things to fall apart. I learned this from Air Force Intelligence in predicting of where the next trouble spots would occur around the world. Later it occurred to me that this is saying exactly the same thing.

    From the Bible,Exodus 20:15

    You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am
    a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to
    the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,

    We made a mistake with Social Security and we are now paying the price, like it or not.

    We will soon have no universal pension system, the question is do you want an orderly transition or a sudden collapse.

  • Taxed Enough Already

    Parents already get tax breaks for their children in the form of deductions. Some areas have separate SCHOOL TAXES in addition to property taxes just to support the public schools. Childless people along with parents who choose to home school or have their children attend private schools are paying for something they will never use. Property taxes go up every time a school needs to be built or renovated. Again childless people are paying for something they will never use. This is happening in my town which is claiming they need a new high school. My property taxes are going up $500.00 a year for a total of approx. $14,000.00 over the time of my mortgage. At what point is enough enough? Aren’t we doing our “fair share”? This is just all part of pitting Americans against each other and the politics of envy. Rich against poor, black against white, young against old and now parents against non-parents. We may be childless but that doesn’t mean we spend our weekends going to five star restaurants, jetting across the country or buying our clothes at expensive boutiques.