Tax Expert: ‘Staying Unmarried Is the Tax Shelter for the Poor’

September 18, 2013 - 3:40 PM

Gene Steuerle

Gene Steuerle, former deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for Tax Analysis in the Ronald Reagan administration, spoke at an event on low-wage workers on Sept. 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Federal tax expert Gene Steuerle said at a discussion on low-wage workers on Tuesday at the Capitol that government social welfare programs penalize low-income people for being married.

“Staying unmarried is the tax shelter for the poor,” Steuerle, a fellow at the Urban Institute and former deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for tax analysis in the Ronald Reagan administration, said at an event to release a survey commissioned by Oxfam America on low-wage workers in the United States.

The survey states that 33 million Americans earn less than $10 an hour.

Respondents to the survey (done by telephone from July 2 to July 9, 2013 of 804 low-wage workers) said they believe it is more common for middle-class people to fall out of the middle class (76 percent) than for low-income people to rise to the middle class (12 percent).

Steuerle’s remarks followed those of Tianna Gaines-Turner, a child care worker from Philadelphia who earns $10 an hour and is raising three children with her husband, who works at a grocery store for $8 an hour. When CNSNews.com asked her to explain how she lost federal benefits when she decided to get married, Gaines-Turner shared her story.

Tianna Gaines-Turner

Tianna Gaines-Turner, a low-wage worker from Philadelphia, spoke at an event on Sept. 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“They don’t encourage people to get married,” Gaines-Turner said. “A lot of these programs are set up for people to stay stagnated and to stay in the situation in which they are in.”

Gaines-Turner explained that if she married the father of her children, who was living with them, she would lose benefits. If she told them she was living with the children’s father, the government would take action to make him pay child support and penalize her for having access to his income.

“So basically I did not report that he lived in the home with us,” Gaines-Turner said. “I reported that I was a single parent.

“If I had reported that he was in the home, they wanted to go after him for child support, because they want the fathers to pay to take care of their children,” said Gaines-Turner, who decided to forgo benefits to marry the father of her children.”

Gaines-Turner said she thinks fathers should support their children, but couples should not be penalized for marrying and living in the same house with their children.

“Unfortunately, the system is not set up – I’m not going to say reward – but it’s not set up to encourage people to have families; to build on what the American Dream is really about is family values,” Gaines-Turner said. “That’s what I was brought up on.

“Family values, family dreams, is for two people who love each other to be able to get married,” Gaines-Turner said. “I wanted to show my children, especially my daughters, and my sons, that if you love this person and you want to be together, you do the right thing and you get married,” said Gaines-Turner, who also has three stepchildren. “You don’t stay shacked up.

“And, unfortunately, we were penalized for that,” Gaines-Turner said.

In a Sept. 5 commentary about how federal policies may have added to persistent poverty – especially among minorities which was posted on the Urban Institute website, Steuerle wrote about the federal tax system and social welfare programs that provide financial incentives for staying single.

“Even while single parenthood remains a major source of poverty for many, that same welfare policy now penalizes—on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars—low-income couples with children who decide to get or remain married,” Steuerle wrote.

Steuerle and Gaines-Turner spoke at an event to release a survey commissioned by Oxfam America on low-wage workers in the United States.