I am a father of two in a dual-earner household, sitting smack-dab in the middle of the middle class. It’s February and I am terrified to do my 2018 taxes. It’s not because taxes are hard. It’s not because I’m seeing middle-class Trump supporters become apoplectic on Twitter as they calculate their tax bill. It’s because for the past three years I’ve been a remote worker itemizing my tax returns and, in 2017, House Republicans and President Trump stripped me of crucial deductions. So I hesitate to file. Because I know it’s going to be bad, and I don’t want to find out just how bad.
I have, for the past three years enjoyed a refund. And the money I received from that refund often went back to my community. One year my wife and I bought a couch from a local business. The next we bought a bed from a local business. Other times, of course, we’ve used the refund to pay down debt. Either way, I am not expecting a refund this year. I’m expecting to write a check.
There are two big changes that make me fear my tax bill this year: There is a cap on deducting state taxes, including property tax, and I can no longer deduct home office expenses not paid by my company. That may not sound like much, but considering how much of my home and its infrastructure is used for my employment, it’s a lot. Meanwhile — and this is a true thing, not a rhetorical point — if I owned a private plane I could deduct the maintenance of the aircraft.
Republican lawmakers are pointing out that workers have already pocketed the equivalent of their refund due to increases in their paychecks, a byproduct of the corporate tax rate getting lowered. Paul Ryan was particularly chuffed about this fact. Remember when he boasted about the school secretary receiving her $1.50 weekly raise because of the tax law? “She said that will more than cover her Costco membership for a year,” Ryan tweeted.
But that’s a specious claim. I earned my raise. (Editor’s Note: Yep.) And I don’t have any particular reason to believe things would have gone differently if the corporate tax was higher. And I work at a small company. There’s no way most workers at larger companies will ever know if they benefited from the corporate tax cut. But what they should know is that the government pulled in a lot less revenue, which is why Trump’s big fun parental leave proposal is probably DOA and why the government will continue to do so incredibly little to help parents even as childcare costs skyrocket. But there’s still a Social Security tax cap that ensures the uber-rich save $62,000 on every million dollars in salary they bring home. Cold comfort to me, as I pay a mortgage on my house, which also serves as my office.
And that’s not even counting the stock buybacks that have enriched shareholders to the tune of a trillion dollars in 2018, a historic amount. Does that wealth trickle down? It might if I was a waiter in a Midtown steak joint and willing to hook a bro up for some Benjamins. But I’m not. I’m a writer. I live just outside Cleveland, Ohio. The trickles here froze long ago.
I will admit to being perplexed by Republican relatives who cheered the tax law along in 2017. I tried to warn them that this wasn’t in their best interests. They shrugged. I’m certain many of them will look at their return this year with red-faced frustration, but I doubt any of them will admit they were wrong. The fight distracts from the suffering. A strong sense of identity might be worth it for them. Me? I’d rather have some more money.
And you can rest assured I’m in no mood to say I told you so. I’m as screwed as they are. And perhaps that’s the biggest shocker. By screwing the middle class, Trump might have managed to bring us together after all.
This article has been updated. A previous version of the article incorrectly claimed two deductions had been cut by the GOP tax law. While the cuts had been proposed in earlier versions of the bill, the deductions for student loan interest and medical expenses are still available to filers.