Taxes necessary, but not necessarily fair

There appears to be some contradictory overlap between those who think that taxes should be abolished (17 percent) and those who say they both understand the necessity of taxes and believe that all Americans have a duty to pay taxes (92 percent). As several of our experts pointed out, potentially 9 percent of people who think everyone has a duty to pay taxes also think taxes should be abolished.

Incomes correlate with attitudes
Sense of duty is not necessarily tied to services received. While those earning the lowest incomes generally benefit the most from government programs -- which are funded by taxpayers -- one out of five Americans earning $20,000 or less would abolish taxes altogether. One out of four (25 percent) in the $20,000 to $30,000 income range feel the same way. By comparison, just 10 percent of those earning $75,000 or more would abolish taxes.

Leonard Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center and senior fellow at the Urban Institute, calls these results "shocking."

"A lot of families in the $25,000 to $30,000 range actually get money back from the income tax system," he says. "They don't pay, because of the refundable earned income tax credit and the child tax credit."

Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy for the government watchdog organization OMB Watch, suggests that age may also be a factor, noting that 14 percent of the youngest poll respondents -- age 18 to 24 years old -- don't understand the necessity of taxes. The percentage drops significantly for older folks.

Are we taxed fairly?
So we're resigned to paying taxes, but are we taxed fairly? Six out of ten Americans don't think so, feeling instead that taxes are skewed to benefit the rich.


"It's interesting that people at all income levels think that taxes skew to benefit the rich," says Burman. "Taxes are still progressive, even after the Bush tax cuts. It's likely that people don't really understand that. The tax system could use some simplifying."

But there does seem to be more optimism among younger Americans; more cynicism among older ones. Roughly half of younger folks (age 18 to 34) say the system is skewed to benefit the wealthy. But nearly two-thirds of those in the 35-64 age category believe the rich benefit most from the current system.

-- Posted: Dec. 17, 2007

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Claes Bell

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