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Economy and Taxes


Clear nonpartisan analysis of fiscal and tax policy enables policymakers and the public to weigh competing theories on how to end the country’s economic crisis. Urban Institute researchers evaluated key components of the stimulus package and analyzed the tax proposals in the president’s budget. Warning decisionmakers about the unsustainable fiscal course ahead, our experts propose ways to control deficits and reform the entitlement programs that drive up spending. Read more.

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The Debt Ceiling Deal, the "Super Committee," and Retirement Programs

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Costly Error in Payroll Tax Computation for the Self-Employed (Article)
Jim Nunns

Errors in the formulas for computing payroll tax for the self-employed result in their paying less payroll taxes than workers with the same earnings. All self-employed workers benefit from these errors, but those with high earnings benefit disproportionately. A provision in Ways and Means Committee chair Dave Camp’s tax reform proposal would correct the formulas. The $5 billion revenue gain over ten years from enacting this provision could help pay for extending expiring tax provisions or for better targeted tax cuts. And it would eliminate a glaring inequity. This article explains the correct formulas and the effects of applying them.

Posted to Web: July 01, 2014Publication Date: July 01, 2014

Analysis of Specific Tax Provisions in President Obama's FY2015 Budget (Article)
Elaine Maag, Jim Nunns, Eric Toder, Roberton Williams

This document reviews several notable tax proposals in President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 Budget. These include expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) for workers without qualifying children, expanding the child and dependent care tax credit for families with young children, conforming rules for self-employment contributions act (SECA) taxes for professional service businesses, and changing business taxes to create a reserve to fund long-run revenue-neutral business tax reform.

Posted to Web: June 30, 2014Publication Date: June 30, 2014

Flattening Tax Incentives for Retirement Saving (Research Report)
Barbara Butrica, Benjamin H. Harris, Pamela Perun, C. Eugene Steuerle

Under current law, a large share of tax benefits for retirement saving accrues to high-income employees. We simulate the short- and long-term effect of three policy options for flattening tax incentives and increasing retirement savings for low- and middle-income workers. Our results show that reducing 401(k) contribution limits increases taxes for high-income taxpayers; expanding the saver's credit raises saving incentives and lower taxes for low- and middle-income taxpayers; and replacing the exclusion for retirement saving contributions with a 25 percent refundable credit benefits primarily low- and middle-income taxpayers, and raises taxes and reduces retirement assets for high-income taxpayers.

Posted to Web: June 30, 2014Publication Date: June 30, 2014

Randomized Controlled Trials and Financial Capability: Why, When, and How (Research Brief)
Brett Theodos, Margaret Simms, Rachel Brash, Claudia Ayanna Sharygin, Dina Emam

Financial capability programs have proliferated in recent years, but rigorous research into which programs and methods are effective has not kept pace. Practitioners, policymakers, and funders are increasingly calling for rigorous financial capability research, including randomized controlled trial studies (RCTs), which can produce the highest standard of evidence. In April 2013, the Urban Institute and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hosted a roundtable on the benefits and challenges of financial capability RCTs. The group agreed that RCTs are most suitable for well-established and scalable programs. Frontline staff should be fully invested in the study and involved in designing implementation and data-collection strategies.

Posted to Web: June 30, 2014Publication Date: June 30, 2014

The Impact of the Great Recession on the Number of Charities by Subsector and Revenue Range (Research Report)
Nathan Dietz, Brice McKeever, Melissa S. Brown, Jeremy Koulish, Thomas H. Pollak

Posted to Web: June 24, 2014Publication Date: June 24, 2014

Changes in Tax Revenue Since 1929 (Article/Tax Facts)
Lydia Austin , Roberton Williams

This Tax Fact examines sources of federal and state & local tax revenue, from 1929 to the present. The composition of revenues at all levels of government changed dramatically with World War II, but has remained roughly stable since. At the federal level, payroll taxes have grown dramatically, and individual income taxes remain a major source of revenue. At the state and local level, sales and property taxes account for about one-third of revenues.

Posted to Web: June 16, 2014Publication Date: June 16, 2014

Five Steps to Pay for Success: Implementing Pay for Success Projects in the Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems (Research Report)
John Roman, Kelly Walsh, Samuel Bieler, Samuel Taxy

This technical report provides an in-depth review of the PFS model, the state of the field, and the strategic planning and five-step process needed to execute high-performing projects. The report contextualizes the PFS framework within the model of existing state and federal legislation and notes key issues and obstacles that jurisdictions interested in pursuing the model will need to address.

Posted to Web: June 11, 2014Publication Date: June 11, 2014

Sharing Risk: How Pay for Success Can Make Government More Efficient (Fact Sheet / Data at a Glance)
John Roman, Kelly Walsh, Samuel Bieler, Samuel Taxy

This document describes the basics of Pay for Success (PFS), its advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional government financing, how a PFS-ready sector can be created, how to identify evidence-based PFS ready programs, the Five Steps to Pay for Success, and next steps in the PFS evolution.

Posted to Web: June 11, 2014Publication Date: June 11, 2014

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