Think Corporate Tax Cuts Create Jobs? Think Again.
by Scott Klinger, 2/25/2015
Nine million unemployed Americans want to work, but they can’t find a job. Nearly seven million more are working part-time but want full-time work. We still have a job shortage in this country. Many in Congress think the solution is more corporate tax cuts.
The theory sounds nice: if a business owner has more money in his pocket, he will plough that money into business expansion and hire more employees. But it doesn’t work that way in real life.
We took a look at large corporations with the highest and lowest effective tax rates between 2008 and 2012 to see how many jobs they created. What we found should be mandatory reading for those who argue that corporate tax cuts create jobs.
Companies with the lowest tax rates destroyed 63,087 jobs.
The 14 large corporations with the lowest tax rate – firms like General Electric, Verizon, American Electric Power, and Duke Energy – shed more than 63,000 jobs altogether, a 10.8 percent decline in their workforce over the five year period.
These low-tax firms collectively reported $107 billion in pre-tax profits, yet none of them paid federal income taxes between 2008 and 2012.
Now what about those with the highest tax rates? Those 14 firms – companies like Lowe’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, CVS, and JM Smucker – paid at least 32.9 percent of their $168 billion in profits in taxes between 2008 and 2012. And they created more than 115,000 jobs, a workforce expansion of 12.7 percent.
Conclusion: High corporate tax rates don’t stifle growth or inhibit profitability.
|Company||08-12 Tax Rate||08-12 Profits ($million)||2012 U.S. Employees||2008 U.S. Employees||Change in # of Employees 2008-12|
|Center Point Energy||-8.5%||4,078||8,720||8,568||152|
|American Electric Power||-5.8%||10,016||18,513||20,861||-2,348|
|Bed Bath and Beyond||34.0%||5,840||44,273||39,000||5,273|
|Discover Financial Services||33.7%||11,709||13,009||12,800||209|
Sources: Corporate tax rates and pre-tax profits come from The Sorry State of Corporate Taxes, Citizens for Tax Justice; corporate jobs numbers come from company 10-K annual reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Employment numbers for Lowe’s and JM Smucker include small but undetermined number of Canadian employees. 2012 employment numbers are adjusted to reflect major acquisitions and divestments between 2008 and 2012. Merger-related employment data came from both company press releases and general media articles.
Special tax rules allow corporations to kick their tax obligations down the road.
Most of the low-tax firms benefitted from the special bonus depreciation rules enacted as a part of the Recovery Act after the Great Recession. These rules enable companies to write off the cost of new investments in equipment more quickly than they otherwise would. The result: they are able to put off for years (or even decades) the taxes they would normally owe.
Policymakers provided this business incentive to keep the economy from declining further, and it was intended as an emergency measure in a dire situation. But as so often happens, this “temporary” corporate tax break has continued even as the economy recovers. Congress last extended this policy in December for another year, and a contingent of lawmakers would like to make it permanent. If Congress continues renewing this costly and ineffective corporate tax break, it will cost the country $244 billion over the next decade.
That lost revenue means we haven’t been investing in public needs like roads, bridges, water systems, or quality education. Investing public money in infrastructure and education would create far more jobs than corporate give-backs.
Corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, but they aren't investing it in new jobs.
U.S. corporations continue to report record profits, but if they are not investing their profits in new products, new markets, and new jobs, what are they investing in? Mostly they’ve been buying back their own stock, which does nothing to help the economy grow or to create jobs. Since 2004, corporations have spent 54 percent of their profits buying back their own stock. Stock buy backs increase stock prices, creating a windfall for corporate executives whose pay is increasingly linked to stock performance. Stock buybacks started growing after 1982, when the Securities and Exchange Commission relaxed rules governing stock price manipulation. Before this, CEOs were afraid to buy back company stock because they might have been prosecuted as stock manipulators.
We could bring back old rules that encouraged companies to invest in workers and jobs.
Another change that has simultaneously encouraged lower corporate tax payments and less domestic job creation came in the 1986 reform of the U.S. tax code. From 1909 until 1986, corporations paid a 15 percent tax on excessive piles of cash they allowed to build up on their balance sheets. Congress wanted to encourage corporations to either distribute cash to workers in the form of higher wages, to shareholders in the form of dividends, or to reinvest the funds in new products, markets, and jobs.
Corporations hated this rule and lobbied hard to change it. In 1986, they succeeded with a law that excluded profits held offshore from the tax on undistributed profits. The race was on, and corporations began building cash hoards overseas, often in tax haven nations. U.S. corporations have been moving a reported $2 trillion in profits to countries like the Cayman Islands. We can rewrite the rules and end this loophole, which costs the nation $90 billion a year.
The bottom line: there's no relationship between tax cuts and job creation.
Examining these 28 large companies, we find no relationship between tax rates and job creation. In fact, if we were only looking at this sample of companies, the evidence would suggest higher taxes lead to more job creation. But we all know that many factors shape a company's expansion decisions, and we know that asserting a relationship doesn't make it real.
Accepting assertions like “cutting taxes creates jobs” without critically examining the evidence behind them leads to dangerous policies that transfer public wealth into the pockets of CEOs and wealthy corporate shareholders, precluding the possibility of instead investing in public assets like infrastructure and education that would benefit us all.