If you’re a millennial like me, every year you probably shrink as April 15 approaches. The fact that you, a millennial — part of a tech-savvy, entrepreneurial and (may I add) fashionable generation — are confused by the tax code speaks to its outrageous complexity. But the tax reform debate brewing in Washington puts focus on the potential changes that make sense for the up-and-coming American dreamers. It’s time for us millennials to consider how expanding the child tax credit really expands our future — by supporting those who are the building blocks of our society.
Middle-class families have it rough in today’s society, and one reason is that their available tax “benefits” are about as beneficial as adding kale to a Big Mac. The current child tax credit of $1,000 per child provides some financial relief to families, but the value of the credit has not changed since 2001, while the cost of life’s basic necessities — food, gas, clothing and health care — has increased significantly over those 16 years. Aside from the tax deck being stacked against them, young families are purchasing homes later due to increased college debt and lower starting incomes than generations past — through no fault of their own. It also doesn’t help that mortgage lending policies and low interest rates continue to overheat the housing market, leading to skyrocketing home prices in Utah. How can families be expected to fulfill their greatest responsibility — that of replenishing society with decent people — when the value of their resources is being taxed on one end and drained on the other?
You may wonder why the debate over sticking up for middle-class families matters. As millennials, chances are we will most likely be in a middle-class family shortly, if we aren’t already. Despite the fact that millennials are getting married later than their predecessors, both marriage and children will probably still happen in our lives — regardless of our current attitudes on the subject. And if you think you’ll just cross that tax bridge when you get there, you’ll likely end up drowning. The last major tax reform was in 1986, and the current reform under debate is the closest thing we will have to getting a personal say in how our money gets taxed for a long time.
Even if we end up being part of the minority of those who don’t marry and don’t have children, our neighbors' children will someday be our doctors, our lawyers, our presidents ... not to mention the workers who will pay for our Social Security checks. We will want them to be competent (my favorite doctors, lawyers and presidents are the competent ones). Competent adults start as children in homes and communities where enough financial resources give them opportunities in life — homes where parents aren’t being crushed by taxes and communities where even those without children recognize the importance of standing up for the next generation.
The proposed child tax credit expansion on the table should boost the hopes of every individual in favor of a functional society. You may not be the direct beneficiary of the child tax credit, but you will benefit indirectly, and you’ll benefit in ways more valuable than money. As the up-and-coming generation, we can step forward to take the responsibility for carrying on this functional society. And it starts by implementing changes such as this: ensuring middle-class families can give their children an opportunity to succeed by increasing the child tax credit in our next tax reform.
Terri Stump Jarman is a policy intern with Sutherland Institute.