A Completely Screwed Up System

Courtesy of Bruce Krasting

The following chart from the Congressional Budget Office shows who pays federal income taxes in America.


It should come as no surprise that individuals in the highest income brackets pay the most in taxes (The top 20% pay 94% of all income taxes according to the CBO). It should also be no surprise that the bottom two rungs (40%) of the income groups pay very little taxes. But it was surprising to me to see that the bottom 40% actually pays a negative income tax rate.

How does one go negative on taxes? The answer is that tax transfers to low income groups exceed any tax liability that is due. Two examples of these transfers are the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) and ACTC (Additional Child Tax Credit). The following chart from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) describes the effective negative tax rate phenomenon.

The chart show that for those earning up to $26,000, there are no income taxes levied. However, those individuals pay FICA (Social Security taxes). The value of the tax credits available to those individuals is greater than their SS taxes; therefore, as a group, they end up with a negative tax rate.

I favor this type of income redistribution. I think high-income groups should end up supporting lower income groups. I have no problem with negative effective tax rates for individuals and households who are at, or below, the poverty line.


The CRS reported:

individuals who were not authorized to work in the United States received $4.2 billion by claiming the refundable portion of the child tax credit – the additional child tax credit (ACTC).

You might ask, “How is this possible?” How could illegal workers end up receiving federal tax credits? The answer is that the IRS is encouraging the process.

The IRS issues two kinds of tax identification numbers. A traditional SS# is available for all legal residents. Illegal residents can obtain an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number). The use of ITIN has exploded 10 fold over the past decade, in 2010 3.2m people used these numbers to file tax returns and obtain refunds.

The use of ITINs is just one component of the problem. The Social Security Actuary has estimated that 75% of illegal workers are using fraudulently obtained SS#s to get work. All of these false tax filings are “eligible” for the tax credits.

Combining the ITIN data with the estimate by SSA, we come up with a number of 12m taxpayers in the system contributing (and getting refunds) that shouldn’t be in the system at all. (Note: the Census Bureau estimated the number of unauthorized aliens at 11.2m in 2010.)

What happens when a cash incentive to have children (ACTC) is made available to people who live in the country? They have babies, of course. That is what has been happening with the illegal workers. In 2010 18% of all children were of families of undocumented aliens. This is down from a whopping 37% in 2006!

Is this legal?

When it comes to refundable tax credits like the EITC and ACTA, the answer is a very clear “No!” But that hasn’t stopped the IRS from allowing it to happen.

It is, however, completely proper for illegal workers to obtain Social Security benefits. Any illegal workers who have contributed to SS (FICA taxes) for a minimum of 10 years are eligible to receive retirement benefits on the same schedule and terms as an individual who works legally.  I was shocked to learn this, but it is true (Link).

How many undocumented workers are there that might be eligible to get Social Security benefits? Pew answers that:

35% of unauthorized adults have resided in the United States for 15 years or more and that 28% have resided for 10 to 14 years. The report also found that the proportion of unauthorized aliens who have been in the country at least 15 years has more than doubled since 2000.

Based on the Pew numbers, 62% of the 11-12m unauthorized aliens will be eligible to receive benefits in their lifetimes. These workers have contributed to SS, so the law says they can get monthly checks. But the reality is that a significant percentage in this group are paying negative effective tax rates after taking into consideration the refundable tax credits described above. In the end, the lower 30% of income groups (including undocumented workers) end up ‘paying’ for SS out of pocket, while getting a similar sized refund check in the other pocket.

What are my points/objectives is bringing up these matters?

1. Our immigration laws (and how they are applied) are completely idiotic.

2. The IRS is facilitating the problem by allowing refunds to be paid to those filing with illegal SS#s (or legally obtained, but fraudulently used, ITINs).

3. Stirring the pot on the issue of illegal workers and their rights to receive Social Security benefits. It now more than two years since the Chief Actuary of the SSN, Stephen Goss, has spoken about this matter (Link). This is a political issue. The country deserves an update on how big a problem this is before November. The candidates should be put on the spot as to what they plan to do about it. Illegal workers have contributed as much as $240Bn to SS (Link).

4. Stimulate a discussion on a very complex and emotive topic.


I have a soft spot for illegal immigrants. My father came from Europe in 1939.

I know many illegal families. I like them. They are good parents. They are hard workers. They would be happy to pay taxes as regular citizens do. They want to own property, cars and give their children an education.

But their numbers are too large, and the consequences are too significant. In the end, this about the law.

So I don’t know what to do.

Did you like this? Share it:


  1. Winslow says:

    The advertisement for distribution of ‘free money’ is yet another example of how our president tries to buy votes for his re-election with taxpayer dollars.

    The more people he can get addicted to govenment handouts the more likely they will vote for those politicians promising to keep the money flowing.

    It’s criminal behavior that gets rewarded rather than punished.

Speak Your Mind

%d bloggers like this: