Promoting marriage was one of the primary goals of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. But for most two-earner couples, the tax system does not support this goal. A couple with two children and $11,000 in earnings each loses $1,491 in annual after-tax income simply by virtue of marriage. Marriage penalties are highest as a percentage of income for low-income couples, who are also penalized by the phaseout of such transfer programs as food stamps and Medicaid. Penalties from the tax system and penalties from the transfer system combine to cost low-income married couples as much as 30 percent of their income.
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