Nonpayer Chart

The Tax Foundation recently released its annual report on the number of tax returns filed that have no tax liability, and the study shows a record number of “nonpayers” in 2008. Taxpayers become “non-payers” when credits and deductions wipe out any income tax they owe.

According to the Tax Foundation report, of the more than 142 million returns filed in 2008, almost 52 million have no tax liability. That means more than 36 percent of tax filers paid no income taxes in 2008 – a new record high. This was a steep increase over 2007 when fewer than 33 percent of filers paid no taxes. As the table below shows, the growth of non-payers is a long-term trend that has been accelerating in recent years. For instance, 21 percent of taxpayers were non-payers in 1990.

The amount of income that a family can earn and still be non-payers is also alarming. In 2010, a family of four can earn up to $51,000 and still pay no income taxes.

Not only do a record number of taxpayer’s pay no taxes, but many of them actually receive cash payments through the tax code because of refundable credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit. According to the Tax Foundation, cash payments from these two credits alone totaled over $70 billion.

President Obama’s policies will add to the numbers of non-payers and the amount of income redistributed because he wants to expand and add even more refundable credits.

Like the Tax Foundation’s report, the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Dependence on Government shows a growing dependence on government and a substantial increase in recent years. According to the report, the average recipient of government aid received over $26,000 in assistance in 2008 – a record high.

The growing dependency on government and shrinking number of taxpayers is troubling and will lead to an even faster rise in unsustainable government spending unless the trend is reversed. Congress should start by ceasing the expansion of refundable tax credits. It should then reform entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare before baby-boomers start collecting benefits from them and dependency on government explodes even further. If Congress starts soon perhaps it won’t be too late to stop the impending fiscal implosion.