Split Personalities – Tax Breadth and Tax Depth
We seem to have split personalities when it comes to the news and our politics. In the news we hear about natural disasters and the sour economy. In politics we hear about the failings of the President and the deficit. Why are these two voices talking about different subjects?
The truth is they are talking about the same problem, just different ends of it. The US is maturing. A large portion of the population is entering their retirement years. Every day, for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65. By 2030, 18% of the U.S. population will be over 65, compared with today’s 13%.
This is important for several reasons, but here are two:
- Federal tax collection is based on income. Those that are retired usually don’t make significant income, so the taxes they contribute are very low. A change or decrease of 5% is a huge impact to the revenue of the government. Or said another way, 10,000 people, who have a high average income, can drop out of the tax pool everyday.
- The baby boomers have been in leadership positions for two decades. The groups behind them, smaller in numbers, will need to fill the void.
The first reason is why you hear about Medicare and the budget. The second reason is why you hear about stimulus and silicon valley.
- When we talk about the deficit and paying down the debt we are talking about the inevitability of time. Our demographics show an aging population who will not be contributing to tax rolls. Less income means less spending. Tax Breadth.
- When we talk about innovation and stimulus spending we are pushing for investment and hopefully an improvement in future wealth and the standard of living. This would offset the loss of tax income from those no longer in the workforce. Tax Depth.
Both of these are concerns. I tend to be more transfixed with the latter. Many young professionals are either not entering the workforce or they are at compensation levels below the norm of 5 years ago. This lag in pay is not easily overcome and tends to persist for a career. Smaller income means smaller taxes paid. In addition to that, younger professionals are not moving into challenging roles as they would have in the past. Opportunities for learning experiences are reduced. Plus what they’ve been taught in school isn’t applicable e.g. China has changed dramatically since 2007, but the text books didn’t.
The 18% not in the workforce is unavoidable, but what should be asked is what’s to come of the under employed?
There will always be some number of the under employed, but we are currently looking at a devastating mix of long durations and loss of skills. The recession as it began in 2007 was a supply and demand recession, meaning nothing out of the ordinary occurred. But the last two years has led to a structural recession. This means that the skills and knowledge the US worker has isn’t quite matching up with what labor is needed. If this is more than a blip then high unemployment will continue for a few years as education and training requirements sort themselves out.
But I also feel like the 16-24 group, or more broadly the under 30 age group, is pioneering a new track. The way the view the world is much different than their older counterparts. As a consumer group they can influence the creation and offering of products and services. The next 24 months will be telling about the future of this country.