Though congressional Republicans and the White House rarely see eye-to-eye these days, they are united on the idea that cutting corporate taxes will spur an hiring boom that will reach down to the ordinary worker.
A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies shows this isn’t true. US companies are already paying minimal amounts in corporate taxes, and the ones most likely under Republican theory to pour tax savings into job creation have instead been more likely to cut their workforce over the past nine years. The data shows that low corporate tax rates more often lead to increases in CEO pay and boosts for shareholders.
Before breaking down the report, it’s important to recognize that the 35 percent US corporate tax rate doesn’t reflect what corporations actually pay. The average effective corporate tax rate in the United States, once deductions are factored in, is around 27 percent, putting it below the global average. If you limit the review to profitable corporations, the number drops to 19.4 percent. Corporate taxes as a share of GDP have fallen threefold since 1952, from 6 percent to 2 percent. Far from being overtaxed, corporations have carried an increasingly lighter burden.Corporations avoid the full rate because of loopholes. There are deductions for domestic manufacturing and “bonus depreciation,” which allows immediate write-offs for half the cost of long-term investments. And corporations benefit tremendously from stashing profits overseas, thereby avoiding taxation entirely. These trillions of dollars in “offshore” profits aren’t sitting in a locker in Zurich; they’re invested in instruments like US Treasury bonds. In other words, the government pays corporations for their own tax avoidance.
The IPS report identifies 92 corporations that reported a profit every year from 2008 to 2015, and that also paid less than 20 percent in corporate income tax. These corporate winners include the usual suspects—banks, defense contractors, telecom firms, and energy companies. Because they were profitable, and paid taxes at or below the Republicans’ optimal rate, they offer an excellent test case. “If claims about the job creation benefits of lower tax rates had any validity,” report author Sarah Anderson writes, “the 92 consistently profitable tax-dodging firms we identified would be among the nation’s strongest job creators.”
But the lower rates didn’t correspond to job creation. Collectively, the 92 profitable corporations cut jobs by 0.74 percent over the period studied, from 2008–16. During that same time, the private sector added jobs at a 6 percent clip. So low-tax corporations did far worse on hiring than their counterparts.