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How President Trump’s Tax Plan Would Really Affect the Middle Class

President Trump is set to speak in Missouri today where he will reportedly continue to tout his tax plan’s benefits for the middle class even though it would actually concentrate its tax cuts at the top — and could even hurt low- and middle-income families.

Over the last two years, the President has released several different tax plans that would deliver trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and corporations but do little to help working families. Yet, he’s consistently promised to help the middle class: in his inaugural address, for example, he said that “every decision” on taxes will “be made to benefit American workers and American families.” In fact, if President Trump’s proposed tax cuts are paid for through the types of spending cuts he has proposed in his budget, low- and middle-income Americans would clearly end up far worse off.

1. President Trump’s tax plan prioritizes the wealthiest, not the middle class.

The current Trump tax plan gives far larger tax cuts to the very wealthiest households than to low- and middle-income households, Tax Policy Center (TPC) estimates show (see table).

President Trump’s tax cuts prioritize the top 0.1% over low- and middle-income households   
Average dollar tax cuts (and % change in after-tax income), 2018  
  Top 0.1 percent Middle fifth Lowest fifth  
Average after-tax income under current tax code $7.1 million $57,720 $14,000  
Trump tax cuts $1.4 million (19.9%) $1,920 (3.3%) $130 (0.9%)  
Trump tax cuts and all revenue-raisers* $937,700 (13.3%) $760 (1.3%) $40 (0.3%)  
Source: Tax Policy Center
* Counts all revenue-raising measures that President Trump or his team mentioned during the presidential campaign and under his Administration.

Further, as we’ve explained, we estimate that the annual tax cuts for the 400 highest-income families would average roughly $15 million each from two Trump tax plan provisions alone. Thus, despite his promises to workers, President Trump’s tax plan would increase inequality by prioritizing those who are already doing best.

2. President Trump’s tax plans are vague about key provisions that affect low- and middle-income households — and could even raise taxes on some.

While the President has been clear about tax cuts that benefit high-income households and large corporations, he’s revealed far less about how his plan would affect middle-income Americans.

In fact, the Administration hasn’t clarified whether the plan would raise taxes for many middle-income families. The Trump tax plan doubles the standard deduction, but also appears to repeal personal exemptions, which would raise taxes on millions of low- and middle-income families: taking this into account along with other revenue-raising proposals that the campaign and Administration have mentioned would mean nearly one-quarter of households in the middle fifth of the income distribution would face tax increases averaging $990 apiece, according to TPC.

3. Reversing a campaign promise, President Trump’s plan includes a provision that could lower U.S. workers’ wages.

While the current Trump tax plan largely mirrors his campaign plan, one big change is its proposal for a “territorial” tax system, which would exempt the foreign profits of U.S. multinational corporations from U.S. taxes. That change has gone relatively unnoticed: the campaign plan would have required U.S. multinationals to immediately pay tax on their foreign profits at the same rate as domestic profits.

If a lower U.S. tax rate on foreign profits encouraged U.S. corporations to move investments offshore, it could hurt U.S. workers’ wages and productivity. As Congressional Research Service tax economist Jane Gravelle told Congress, “[Moving to a territorial system] would make foreign investment more attractive. That would cause investment to flow abroad, and that would reduce the capital which workers in the United States have, so it should reduce wages.”

4. Most Americans would likely lose from the Trump tax cuts, once they’re paid for.

Perhaps the most important question about the Trump tax plan for low- and middle-income Americans is who will pay for the tax cuts for high-income people and corporations. The Trump plan doesn’t include proposals to fully pay for the tax cuts by closing tax loopholes or scaling back tax breaks at the top; it would cost more than $3.5 trillion, even counting all the possible revenue-raising provisions that the Trump campaign and Administration have mentioned. Sooner or later, the cost must be offset through some combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

If that cost is paid for through the types of spending cuts the President proposed in his 2018 budget, the vast majority of Americans would be net losers, a new TPC analysis indicates (see chart). Households in the middle fifth would lose an average of $1,500 once the costs of paying for the Trump tax cuts are counted. Nearly all — 94 percent — of these households would be “net losers,” losing more from the offsets than they’d gain from the tax cuts. Essentially every household in the bottom two-fifths of the income spectrum would be a net loser, losing an average of more than $2,000 in after-tax income. Meanwhile, the top 0.1 percent of households would gain about $935,000 each on average.