A U.S. Carbon Tax and the Earned Income Tax Credit

Research Report

A U.S. Carbon Tax and the Earned Income Tax Credit

An Analysis of Potential Linkages

Abstract

This paper examines, individually and jointly, an excise tax on carbon and an expansion of EITC benefits to childless workers. We estimate how an illustrative tax of $32 per ton of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion would burden households differentially across the income distribution, how it could affect worker benefits from the existing EITC program by lowering wages, the share of the revenue that would be necessary to fund an EITC expansion to childless workers, and the further resources policymakers would need to target to low income households to hold them unburdened on average from a carbon tax. We find that although in principle a carbon tax that lowers wages could affect EITC benefits and thus impact low-to-moderate income households, the likely magnitude of the effects is very small. We find that far more important to the distribution of burden is the extent to which the carbon tax passes through to raise retail prices, a decidedly regressive outcome, versus lowering wages, which is distributionally much more neutral. Using emissions and other data from 2013 and 2014, we also find that the revenue from the carbon tax could be enough to expand the EITC to childless workers and hold other low income households harmless, combining a regressive tax with progressive benefits. We find that such a policy package could create net benefits for on average for the lowest income deciles while improving incentives to work and providing environmental benefits.

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