Tax Reform and Who It Benefits: A Tax Day Reading List

While some prepare to file their taxes on or before April 18, others prepare to protest during Tax Day Marches, calling upon President Donald Trump to release his tax returns and commit to a fair tax system for all Americans.

Some see this day as an opportunity to take back the discussion on tax reform and the middle class. And others note that any recent tax reform discussions will still benefit the richest 1% more than the poor and middle class.

As discussions continue on how tax reform affects all Americans, below is a list of suggested readings.

Public Debt, Inequality, and Power: The Making of a Modern Debt State by Sandy Brian Hager

“[W]ho actually owns the debt inside America? Hager has done some fascinating and path-breaking research to answer that question, and concluded that the ownership pattern is surprisingly concentrated—and unequal—and this may have implications for how the entire debt debate develops in the coming years. This is an illuminating work that deserves wide attention.”—Gillian Tett, Financial Times

A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s open access publishing program for monographs. Visit www.luminosoa.org to learn more.

 

How Big Should Our Government Be? by Jon Bakija, Lane Kenworthy, Peter Lindert, Jeff Madrick

“An Important new book . . . goes deep into this question of government footprint and growth.”—Jared Bernstein, The Washington Post

“If you would like a low-key, reasonably argued, nonideological discussion of the economic role of the government in the United States, one based on facts and on research using the facts, this is just the book for you.”—Robert Solow, Nobel Laureate in Economics and Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 

Hollowed Out: Why the Economy Doesn’t Work without a Strong Middle Class by David Madland

“[I]t is time to mount a political challenge to the economic theories—namely, supply-side, or trickle-down economics—that have provided cover for the unparalleled growth in inequality over the past three decades. . . . A dramatic and clearly delineated outline of ‘how the stage has been set for transformative political conflict.'”—Kirkus

“When will we learn that an economy that works just for the wealthy just doesn’t work? David Madland explains with clarity and eloquence why trickle-down economics can’t keep its promise of rapid growth—and why a more just economy will provide better results for everyone.”—E. J. Dionne Jr., Brookings Institution, Georgetown University, and author of Our Divided Political Heart

Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class, With a New Preface by Robert Frank

“The arguments here are powerful and multidisciplinary. The crux is explaining how rising economic inequality causes harm to the middle class. It also offers a policy reform—a progressive consumption tax—that serves to mitigate this harm. This is a gem of a book.”—Lee S. Friedman, University of California at Berkeley

“Robert Frank explains exactly how and why an unequal society leaves almost all its members worse-off, including most of those who objectively are doing ‘better.’ This is a very important application of economic logic to modern America’s main domestic problem.”—James Fallows, The Atlantic Monthly

 

It’s Not Like I’m Poor: How Working Families Make Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World by Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Kathryn Edin, Laura Tach, Jennifer Sykes

“An important contribution to poverty policy scholarship.”—Vanessa D. Wells Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

It’s Not Like I’m Poor inspires one to wonder whether there are existing educational interventions that, with changes to their delivery method, might lead to better experiences and outcomes for children and families… Not only did their work dispel many of the negative stereotypes of welfare -reliant mothers and present an honest picture of the financial realities these families faced, it also helped forecast the relative hardships families would face when the effects of welfare reform took shape.”—Celia J. Gomez Harvard Educational Review

Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged by Katherine S. Newman and Rourke O’Brien

“An impressive volume that makes a straightforward, compelling, and well-documented point. This is an important book—for lots of reasons.”—Daniel T. Lichter, Cornell University

Taxing the Poor makes extremely important points that are not now—but must be—part of the American discussion of poverty and social policy. The authors make these points with fascinating details on the history of how we got to this place. Bravo to Newman and O’Brien for thoroughly laying out a politcal economy of taxation.”—Robin Einhorn, author of American Taxation, American Slavery

 

The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem by Joel Best and Eric Best

“Probably the best and clearest book on the United States’ complex student debt problem.”—Tyler Cowen TLS

“In this fully documented—but highly readable—study, Joel and Eric Best parcel out the blame among politicians, educational institutions, and the students themselves. Importantly, they propose timely actions to take ‘before this latest financial bubble bursts.'”—Richard J. Mahoney, Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government and Public Policy, Washington University, St. Louis

“Edgy and astute. . . . This engaging book will appeal to a broad audience of interested general readers.”—John Iceland, Penn State University


It’s Not Like I’m Poor: How Working Families Make Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World

by Sarah Halpern-Meekin

Marissa Lopez and her toddler were scraping by on welfare in the late 1990s. Soon after she had her second daughter, she hit Massachusetts’ two-year time limit on welfare receipt. While her mother watched the girls, Marissa combined work and school, earning a certificate as a medical assistant. Now 31 and a single mother of three, Marissa’s hourly wages are decent, but because she’s employed through a temp agency, her earnings can fluctuate drastically. “Sometimes I’m able to get forty hours a week. Other times I’m lucky if I get eight hours a week,” she explains. While Marissa’s eligibility for SNAP benefits can change from month to month as her paycheck rises and falls, and she can’t count on her kids’ fathers to pay child support, there’s one time a year when she knows her finances will improve: tax time

Marissa’s is one of 115 families whose stories are chronicled in our book, It’s Not Like I’m Poor, which details how everyday Americans have gotten by since welfare reform’s sweeping transformation in the 1990s. Via the dramatic expansion of tax credits for low-income workers, the economic fortunes of one group of poor households, the working poor, have been bolstered as never before.

Refundable tax credits support far more families than welfare ever did—with the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reaching some 26 million households today. This lump sum at tax time gives families the ability to catch up on debts, pay ahead on bills, and make large purchases in ways that are unimaginable at any other time of the year. And there’s a further benefit: while cash welfare stigmatizes and ostracizes its recipients, tax credits create feelings of inclusion and hope for upward mobility. “Hitting the lottery” at tax time doesn’t erase the month-to-month challenges of making ends meet on meager wages; nonetheless, the new welfare system makes the dream of a middle-class life for parents like Marissa feel more tangible.

It’s Not Like I’m Poor: How Working Families Make Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World, written by Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Kathryn Edin, Laura Tach, and Jennifer Sykes, will release in January 2015 and is now available for pre-order. Sarah Halpern-Meekin is Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.