Tax The Poor

Who pays a higher tax rate in the U.S., the lowest or the highest paid Americans?

2018

2018

The overall tax rate on the richest 400 households last year was only 23 percent, meaning that their combined tax payments equaled less than one quarter of their total income.

1950

1950

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What story does this chart tell about tax rates in America today?

  3. How does the tax rate for the rich and the poor compare today?

  4. Why do you think that is?

  5. What is one consequence of this?

  6. How has the tax rate for the rich changed over the past half century?

  7. Why do you think that is?

  8. What is one consequence of this tax rate change for the rich?

  9. If you were one of the 400 richest households in the U.S. would you want your tax rate lowered?

  10. Warren buffet, America’s 3rd wealthiest person (net worth: $82 billion) famously pays less in taxes than his secretary. Make a claim about the fairness of this.

  11. In what way are the following branches of government involved in making tax policy: Legislative, executive, judicial.

  12. What would the following people say about the tax rate for the richest Americans: Socialist, liberal, conservative, Libertarian, the current POTUS.

  13. By the middle of the 20th century, The United States had arguably the world’s most progressive tax code, with a top income-tax rate of 91 percent and a corporate tax rate above 50 percent. What would a government with higher tax rates have more of?

  14. In the mid-20th century the U.S. government spent a large part of their tax revenue on things like the interstate highway program, fighting WWII, landing on the moon, Medicare and other programs. Was that a good investment in our nation?

  15. The justification for lowering top income-tax rates was usually that the economy as a whole would benefit. This justification was known by various names such as supply-side economics or the trickle-down theory. The justification turned out to be wrong. The wealthy, and only the wealthy, have done fantastically well over the last several decades. G.D.P. growth has been disappointing, and middle-class income growth even worse. Explain whether you think the U.S. will reverse course and raise taxes on the richest Americans?

  16. let’s say that your crazy uncle said that the data from the chart was fake. What would be three steps you could take to find out if this data were reliable?

  17. if the overall tax rate on the richest 1 percent roughly doubled, to about 60 percent. The tax increases would bring in about $750 billion a year, or 4 percent of G.D.P. List the top three ways you would spend (or save) that revenue:

  18. Imagine that you were a candidate for president and you ran on a platform of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. How do you think the average American would like that plan?

  19. What could average Americans do to support such a plan?

  20. How do you think the wealthiest Americans would like that plan to raise taxes on them?

  21. What could wealthy Americans do to oppose a plan they did not like?

  22. Do you think a candidate in 2020 with a plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest would most likely win election?

Learning Extension

Read Pulitzer Prize winning author David Leonhardt’s op-ed about American tax rates.

Action Extension

Find out about the tax plan of any 2020 candidate for President and share the plan and your opinion of it online or in class.

Visual Extension

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AP US Government and Poverty

How does the poverty rate in the U.S. Compare with other OECD* (wealthy) countries?

*The OECD, or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, was founded in 1948 and is made up of 36 member countries. It seeks to improve the economic and social well-being of countries and their populations. The OECD looks at issues that impact people’s everyday lives and proposes policies that can help to improve the quality of life.

  1. How accurate was your ridiculous prediction?

  2. Why do you think your guess was so wrong?

  3. How do you think the average American would answer this question?

  4. What story does this chart tell about poverty and the United States?

  5. Based on what you know about American history, politics, and political ideology, why do you think America’s poverty rate is the highest of the wealthy world?

  6. How does this high poverty rate impact American politics?

  7. Is this information good news or bad news?

  8. Are you proud that our poverty rate is three times higher than the Czech Republic?

  9. Describe one policy could lower the poverty rate.

  10. Describe one policy that could raise the poverty rate.

  11. In general, explain whether the policies of the current president will increase or decrease the poverty rate.

  12. Describe one method the U.S. president can use to make policy about Poverty?

  13. Describe one method the U.S. Congress can use to make policy. about poverty?

  14. List three departments or agencies of the U.S. bureaucracy that deal with poverty in America.

  15. Imagine that you were an interest group whose goal was to lower poverty. Describe two methods you might use to try to achieve your goals.

  16. Imagine that the average American knew the information from the chart above. Explain How that knowledge would alter American policy regarding poverty?

  17. The Pew Research Center has found that among Americans in families making less than $10,000 (the lowest income group they studied), 24.5 percent voted. Why do you think such a low rate of people with a low socioeconomic status vote?*

  18. What is one consequence of this low voter turnout?

  19. We also know that voting rates go up with income levels — the highest-income group, people in families making $150,000 or more, also had the highest turnout, at 56.6 percent. Why do you think increased income leads to increased voter turnout?*

  20. What is one policy change that would occur if the voting rate for poor and wealthy voters flip-flopped?

  21. How has the U.S. poverty rate changed over the past 50 years?*

  22. How does race and ethnicity impact the poverty rate in the U.S.? *

  23. The Preamble of the United States Constitution states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (their spelling not mine!), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Based on the poverty statistics above, does our government succeed at promoting the general welfare?

  24. If you could wave a magic wand and make the U.S. poverty rate (17.8% of all people) similar to that of Finland (5.8%), what would be a consequence of this change?

  25. Elizabeth Warren and other presidential candidates have proposed a 2% wealth tax, that would, among other things, lead to a decrease in the poverty rate. Make a claim about whether this wealth tax would be a good idea.

  26. A student named Ichabod, upon analyzing the data from the chart above said, “America is the land of opportunity. If you are poor in America it’s your own darned fault.” Respond to Ichabod’s claim.

  27. What claim would the following people make about the American poverty rate?

  • Typical American Conservative

  • Typical American Liberal

  • Typical American Libertarian

  • Typical American Socialist

  • Felicity Huffman

  • Typical American Democrat

  • Typical American Republican

  • The Current American President

Visual Extension*

Learning Extension

Check out all this cool Pew Research Center visual data on U.S. poverty and politics.

Action Extension

Ask three other people (in person) to predict how American poverty compares with the rich world. Then share the answer with them. Share their reaction on line or in class.

Cats Ringing a Bell for Dinner Extension

Budget Me Elmo

What US Government department or agency has the largest budget for Fiscal Year 2020?

  1. How inaccurate was your crazy prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about this crazy data?

  3. When you think about where the largest portion of the money goes, what is the big story this data tells?

  4. Why is that?

  5. What is one political consequence of this distribution of money?

  6. Explain whether this is good or bad news.

  7. How surprised would the average American be by this data?

  8. How much input do you personally have in the budgetary process?

  9. Let’s say that you wanted to influence the budgetary process as much as possible. What would be the most efficacious first step to take to wield the most influence?

  10. The department with the highest budget is the Department of Health and Human Services ($1.2 TRILLION!!!) What exactly is all this money going for?

  11. And what about the Social Security Agency? What does that money go for?

  12. In the budget for Fiscal Year 2020 the Department of Defense (fights wars) gets 706 BILLION dollars while the Department of State (prevents wars) gets 24 BILLION dollars. Explain whether you believe that is a good ratio of spending.

  13. I like the defense department. I do not want the U.S. to be invaded by Canada, Jamaica, or North Korea. At the same time, I like the environment, and the Defense Department budget is over 100 times larger than the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. Explain what you would like the ratio on military protection versus environmental protection to be in the ideal world.

  14. Explain which department or agency is the most underfunded.

  15. Explain which department or agency is the most overfunded.

  16. If you could change the budgetary spending in on way, what would you change?

  17. Who decides on the budget?

  18. How is the budgetary process an example of checks and balances?

Visual Extension *

statistic_id736300_breakdown-of-the-department-of-homeland-security-budget-by-organization-2020.png

Learning Extension

Learn about the U.S. government’s budgetary process.

Action Extension

Remix the U.S. budget as you see fit. Share your new budget in class or online.

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Labor Daze

GoPoPro

Today is Labor Day. Shouldn’t you have the day off today?

What is the most common job in your state?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What surprised you about this map?

  3. What didn't surprise you about this map?

  4. What is the big trend you see in the map?

  5. Why do you think that is?

  6. What is one consequence of that trend?

  7. Is this legitimately good news?

  8. Do you plan to be a truck driver?

  9. Do you know any truck drivers?

  10. How different do you think this map would have looked fifty years ago?

  11. What do you think will happen when we mass-produce robot trucks?

  12. How does this map affect you?

  13. In an ideal world, what would the most common job in your state be?

  14. Write a question you'd like answered about this information?

  15. Why do we even have a Labor Day in the first place?

Learning Extension

You can see a slideshow from NPR's Planet Money of how the most common job in each state has changed, year by year, since 1978.

Action Extension

Today is Labor Day. Thank someone who labored for you today.

How many syllables are in caramel

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In Debt We Trust

GoPoPro

Over the past three decades, what has happened to the U.S. government’s public debt?

Statistic: Public debt of the United States from 1990 to 2018* (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista
  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What is the current U.S. public debt in total dollars (top chart)?

  3. What is the current U.S. public debt as a percent of GDP (second chart)?

  4. Identify one trend in the top chart?

  5. Explain one cause of that trend.

  6. Describe one consequence of that trend?

  7. Explain whether this trend is good or bad news.

  8. Look at the second chart. Superimpose the names of the US presidents, their years in office, and their political party on this chart. Does a president’s political party impact the rate of debt during their time in office?

  9. Americans have different political ideologies, beliefs, and values. What would the typical American conservative say about a government that spends so much more than it takes in?

  10. To make the debt go down governments need to spend less (budgetary expenditures) than they take in (tax). Imagine you were a politician who wanted to eliminate our debt and advocated spending less (cutting government programs) and taxing more (increasing how much citizens pay the government in taxes). How would your economic goal impact your reelection chances?

  11. Why does American public debt keep rising?

  12. At the same time as the U.S. debt goes up, what is going down?

  13. Write the entire U.S. public debt number out (in other words, turn the trillions into zeroes):

  14. In the entire word there are 7 billion people; 6500 spoken languages, and about 400 billion birds. Name anything in the world that there are more than 22 trillion of:

  15. How does U.S. public debt compare to the rest of the world?*

  16. Who owns the U.S. public debt?*

  17. What role does the U.S. Congress have in the US debt?

  18. What role does the POTUS have in the US debt?

  19. President Trump signed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, reducing U.S. tax revenue. 83 percent of the tax breaks from this bill go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. How will these huge tax cuts impact the U.S. debt?

  20. Based on your knowledge of American politics, why would the President give such a large tax cut during a time of dramatically increasing American debt?

  21. How old will you be in 2050?

  22. If you were to look at the overall trend of this chart, predict what the chart will look like in 2050.*

Visual Extension*

Statistic: The 20 countries with the highest public debt in 2017 in relation to the gross domestic product (GDP) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista
statistic_id201881_us-government-debt-holders-distribution-2018.png
chartoftheday_13329_major_foreign_holders_of_us_treasury_securities_n.jpg
Statistic: Forecast of the gross federal debt of the United States for fiscal years 2018 to 2029 (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Learning Extension

Freak yourself out and check out the US debt clock. You’ll love it! Check back in weekly and see how it has grown!

Action Extension

Contact the POTUS or your Congressional Representatives and let your voice be heard about the U.S. debt.

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