Reader Bill Boecklen sent me this CNN Business article with a headline and content that, it appears, exist only to stoke the flames of animus between black and white people in America. Or so Bill thought (I give his quote at the bottom), and I think he’s right. Read it for yourself by clicking on the headline:
The headline clearly implies some kind of racism or bias in the tax code that penalizes black people more than whites. In other words, income taxes are structurally racist. (The end of the article implies that as well.)
But in fact that’s not a scintilla of racism involved, structural or otherwise. The higher on-average taxes levied on married black couples than on married white couples result purely from their differences in work situations. Remember, race is not specified or requested on your income tax forms.
So what is causing the difference here? To use the condescending trope we see above: “Here’s what”:
First to reiterate absence of any racism (my bolding throughout):
Generally speaking, when US tax filers of any race get married, they can get hit with either a “marriage penalty” or a “marriage bonus,” meaning they pay more or less in taxes as a married couple than they would as two singles.
Penalties are more likely when both spouses in a couple work than among one-earner couples. And they are higher when two spouses each make about the same amount of money. Penalties are also more likely when a couple has children.
If the financial facts of a Black married couple were identical to those of a White married couple, there would be no difference in their tax burdens, said William Gale, co-director of the Tax Policy Center and a coauthor of its marriage study.
But here’s the “here’s why” (my bolding):
But the economic facts of Blacks and Whites on average are different.
For example, Black married couples are more likely to live in a two-earner household; each spouse is more likely to earn about the same amount as the other; and they are more likely to have dependents.
“We find that Black couples are more likely than White couples to experience an income tax penalty from marriage and to face higher penalties. We show that these patterns arise because, controlling for income, Black spouses have more equal earnings than white spouses … and because Black couples are more likely to have dependents,” the authors of the report write.
Researchers found that among couples hit with a marriage penalty, Black couples paid less in dollars ($1,804 versus $2,091) but more as a share of their income than White couples (1.8% versus 1.4%).
When researchers specifically focused on households with adjusted gross income between $50,000 and $100,000 under the tax law in effect for 2018, they found 59% of Black couples faced a marriage penalty versus 51% of White couples. Black couples paid about $150 more on average.
Only 33% of Black couples got a marriage bonus compared to 44% of Whites, and those bonuses were roughly $170 smaller on average.
Note first that there is no racism going on here; the government decided that there would be a marriage penalty and it would be higher with more equality of income among spouses. Note as well that the average tax difference is small—$150 in penalties or $170 in bonuses—a relative pittance and nothing to get worked up about.
Now I’m no tax expert, so I don’t know why the government decided to levy a higher penalty for married couples having more equal incomes (readers?). But what I do know is that this small difference in taxes paid has absolutely nothing to do with racism: it is purely the result of a decision the government made a while back to produce a tax code they saw as fair for everyone. It is ridiculous to think that the government knew about income differences in black and white married couples in advance, and then wrote the tax code to penalize African Americans!
Why, then, did CNN think this story was worth publishing? Because they wanted to sell it as an example of bias that disadvantages blacks. This becomes clear when you read the end of the article, which sees this disparity in tax penalties as a racial issue. For example:
It’s still early days when it comes to detailing how tax and other federal policies affect racial equity and how differences can be cured, said Gale. “We’re maybe in the second inning. There is so much work to be done.”
And so on. . .
It’s time for people to realize that finding scents of racism everywhere, even when it does not exist, only exacerbates divisions between blacks and whites. I believe that they’ve found that antiracist bias training in schools, for example, can actually exacerbate racial animus because, by concentrating on racial differences, it can produce resentment among white people who are told they’re racist and therefore guilty.
This article instantiates a related situation: the implication of racism when it does not exist—and in this case the nonexistence is clear. To me, dividing the data by race, and finding a difference that penalizes blacks, was deemed a “story” for the paper. Had the results shown a tax penalty for whites, it would not have been printed. And I bet you can find some tax data in other areas that would give that result.
This kind of article serves not to create equality among the races, but to gin up animus between them, and to give ammunition to those like Kendi who think that every aspect of every policy in the government is either racist or antiracist, with nearly all policies falling in the former class. If a policy disadvantages blacks, it’s racist. But only in the most ludicrous construal of “racism” (i.e. Kendi’s) can you decide that a demographic difference having nothing to do with bias is an example of racism.
Bill, who called this piece to my attention, certainly was upset about it, and he sent me the following along with the link (I have his permission to use his name and his words):
This is an unctuous example of race baiting geared to generate more clicks. As such, it must be view as a callous marketing strategy designed to take advantage of the country’s (or the MSM’s) obsession with race.
The article states, “If the financial facts of a Black married couple were identical to those of a White married couple, there would be no difference in their tax burdens, said William Gale, co-director of the Tax Policy Center and a coauthor of its marriage study.”
So, what’s the problem?
All this achieves is to increase the level of animus in the country.
Yep. It’s time to start reading the media taking account of this possibility. It’s not that they deliberately want to inflame racial divisions—I am sure that’s not true—but by finding racism everywhere, they get a good story and more clicks. Stories of racism are what sells. And the click-mania of the media leads to the kind of distortion generated by this article.