It’s popular in some circles to say how unfair taxes are to the people who work hard for their money. And they’re right.

While most workers have to document every dollar earned or risk the ire of the Internal Revenue Service, some of the richest Americans and corporations fail to pay their fair share as a matter of course, costing the U.S. Treasury hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

The problem has been growing for a decade, but the last year in particular has showed how much it hurts American families. The pandemic proved how much the health and productivity of our workforce depends on things like child care and paid leave. Yet when it comes time to pay for those things, the people and businesses who benefit the most from a healthy workforce and a robust economy are allowed to bow out.

That’s why we’re glad to see that President Biden’s proposal to pay for his  American Families Plan includes not only small tax increases on the richest Americans but also funding to crack down on tax evaders.

Biden’s plan would give the IRS an extra $80 billion over the next decade to increase enforcement on high-earning individuals and large corporations. It would also establish new disclosure requirements for some high-earners.

The plan doesn’t address all the inequities in the tax code. But it does get at one growing problem: the number of well-off Americans not paying in taxes what the law says they should.

The initiative could raise as much as $700 billion in additional tax revenue over the next 10 years, the Biden administration estimates.

The loss in revenue is the result of a tax system that is increasingly complex – and, thus, easier to game – and an underresourced IRS.

From 2010 to 2018, the Congressional Budget Office reported, the IRS annual budget fell by 20 percent. Its enforcement funding was cut by nearly one-third. Investigations have plummeted, especially for the highest earners – someone making under $20,000 a year is now just as likely to be audited as someone earning between $500,000 and $1 million.

Under those conditions, it’s no surprise that people will hide earnings if they know how. The IRS estimates that a decade ago, tax revenues were about $380 billion a year below what they should have been. In 2020, the agency says, it might have been more than $630 billion.

Every dollar in tax obligation that someone doesn’t pay puts the burden on someone else. When the richest Americans evade taxes, they are failing to properly support a system from which they benefit most of all.

If the money had been available before the pandemic, for example, it could have made the workforce less volatile by supporting child care programs so that parents didn’t have to stay home.

Even after the pandemic, flexibility for working Americans will make them better workers, freeing them to work more hours, if they like, or improve their skills and education.

The American Families Act is aimed primarily at working-class and middle-income Americans. They will be the ones getting tax credits or subsidies for things like child care, family leave, health care and education. It would be a boon for them – one that they deserve, and that has been a long time coming.

But it will help the richest Americans most of all, creating a healthier, more stable and flexible workforce to fuel the economy that funnels so much money their way.

When it comes time to pay for it, they should at least be contributing their lawful amount. It would only be fair.


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