The Mercury News Weekend

Black married couples pay a higher `marriage penalty' on taxes than White couples

- By David Lightman

Married Black couples often pay more in federal income tax than White married couples. And the racial disparity in California may exceed the national average.

A study by Washington's nonpartisa­n Tax Policy Center found that nationally, 46% of Black married couples paid what amounts to a “marriage penalty,” while 43% of White couples paid one.

That cost Black couples an average of $148 more in federal income taxes. Just among Black couples with penalties, the average marriage tax was 1.8% of their income. In contrast, it was 1.4% for White couples who experience­d marriage penalties.

The difference could be even more in California for higher-income married couples, thanks to the cap on deducting state and local property taxes. Under the 2017 tax cut law, deductions are limited to $10,000 for taxpayers who itemize.

So, a married couple would be able to take only as much as $10,000. Two people filing separately could each take $10,000. Hence a “marriage penalty.”

Prior to the 2017 law, taxpayers could usually deduct any amount they had paid in state or local taxes, a notable benefit to people in much of California, where property taxes tend to be higher.

In 2018, the average deduction for state and local taxes could have been: In El Dorado County, $19,344, Placer County, $19,246, Fresno County, $16,632, San Luis Obispo County, $16,536, Sacramento County, $14,338, San Joaquin County, $14,153, Merced County, $11,604 and Stanislaus County, $13,861. The data were compiled by the Tax Foundation, a Washington research group.

Congressio­nal Democrats from urban areas have pushed hard to eliminate the limit on the deduction, but they've gotten nowhere. And with Republican­s controllin­g the House, any effort will probably stall again.

Trying to ease the penalty for Black taxpayers would be nearly impossible.

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