In theory, lower tax rates should be embraced by most Americans. After all, a “tax cut” means less money going to Uncle Sam and more money staying in your pocket—ready for you to spend, save, or invest. Who can argue with that?
But tax cuts aren’t as popular as you may think. Consider the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017: Only 39 percent of Americans approve of the new law, while 46 percent oppose it. That comes out to millions and millions of Americans opposing tax cuts.
Part of the reason is a limited understanding of how the TCJA will affect the average American, especially among Millennials. Nearly 40 percent of Millennials claim the new law will do nothing to change their federal tax burden over time, while another 27 percent believe their tax burden will increase. Only 26 percent say their tax burden will decrease.
Other misconceptions are also at play, and youthful cynicism to boot. When countless news headlines suggest tax reform will exclusively benefit the rich, many Millennials are led to oppose it on principle. According to one Quinnipiac University poll, 78 percent of young voters claim tax cuts primarily benefit the wealthy. Why support a “giveaway to businesses and the rich,” as the Christian Science Monitor puts it, when it won’t benefit me?
Others associate tax reform with President Trump or the Republican Party, and reject it by association. Therefore, public opinion regarding the TCJA begins to mirror the ideological tribalism that has come to dominate American politics writ large—if your favorite politicians support tax reform, then you do too (and vice versa).
In reality, the TCJA provided about 80 percent of American taxpayers with a direct tax cut, according to the Brookings Institution. (Other estimates are closer to 90 percent.) But how many Americans actually know that? How many Millennials know that?
The disconnect between public perception and fiscal reality suggests more needs to be done on the public education front. Much more. The fact that millions of Millennials remain largely uneducated on the impacts of tax reform means that there is an opportunity for them to become open to, if not fully supportive of, pro-growth tax reform. The Millennial generation is not only ripe for a crash course on tax policy, but also a generational attitude shift on the benefits associated with tax cuts.
Keep in mind: Millennials could use a tax cut more than just about any other age group. Based on recent polling, 60 percent of Millennials don’t even have $500 set aside to cover an unexpected tax bill. About 30 percent of Millennials don’t even have a savings account, with many lacking the adequate funds.
Debt has a lot to do with it. Millennials have racked up an average of $27,900 in personal debt, excluding mortgages. From student loan obligations to outstanding credit card bills, Millennials account for more than $1.1 trillion in total debt—about 30 percent of all U.S. consumer debt. In other words, the Millennial generation is the most debt-ridden in American history.
Crisis, meet opportunity. Isn’t a Millennial the ideal target audience for a primer on increased take-home pay or higher after-tax savings? What better audience is there to understand how an extra $500 or $1,000 per month can make a real difference? That is, to truly understand it, based on personal experience?
Millennials scrambling to pay off their student loans and start saving are uniquely positioned to appreciate the real-world impact of tax reform, if they understand it to begin with. Considering that tax cuts are proven to boost net income, very few economic policies can be quite as beneficial to a generation that desperately needs higher income—higher income that leads to increased savings, stock market investments, home ownership, and so forth.
Millennials’ lived experience, however unfortunate, is a fire ready to start. Proper education is the spark.
Is it difficult to change people’s minds? Of course. It’s never easy addressing preconceived notions and countering them with the truth. Millennials are no different, and tax policy isn’t the sexiest topic to bring up.
But it is doable. It is worth trying. The opportunity is simply too great to ignore.
Catalyst articles by Luka Ladan