Opinion

Ivanka Trump wants to help the wealthy pay their au pairs

Her child care plan is absurdly tilted towards the rich

One of the biggest lingering questions about the Donald Trump presidency is the degree to which his campaign shtick of being a working-class populist was an open fraud. So far, all signs point towards "completely."

The most recent example comes from Ivanka Trump, who is reportedly the force behind a new plan to provide a tax deduction for child care. As usual for Republican policymaking, it is absurdly tilted towards the rich. Ultra-rich families — like those of the many Wall Street goons stocking Trump's Cabinet, or of the various Trump children themselves — will make out handsomely. But poor and working-class schlubs will get a pittance, if they get anything.

The full details of the plan have not been released yet, but the basic shape was described in a Bloomberg report. It would allow parents to deduct their child care expenses from their taxable income; single parents earning less than $250,000 would qualify, and so would couples earning less than $500,000. (This doesn't mean that a family making more than that would be totally ineligible, the deduction would just be phased out as income increased, up to an overall limit in deductions.) Additionally, there would be a $1,200 child care supplement in the Earned Income Tax Credit to cut poorer families in a bit.

Tax deductions reduce your taxable income, so the actual benefit will depend on your tax rate (as opposed to tax credits, which reduce your taxes owed directly). Kevin Drum does a quick sketch of what that would look like with a $5,000 deduction here. Essentially, the more you make, the more you benefit, up to the income cap. But that cap is extremely high — $500,000 is nearly nine times the median household income, so the number of super-rich families who wouldn't get at least a piece of it would be very small.

The right-leaning Tax Foundation conducted an analysis of Trump's child care plan, and found that it would cost $500 billion over 10 years. They did not break out how much of that is due to the EITC expansion and how much to the increased deduction, but at a rough guess the bulk of the cost is due to the deduction. The current EITC grants a maximum of $3,373 for one-child families, $5,572 for two-child families, and $6,269 for those with more than two children. For families right in the income sweet spot, that would be quite a sizable benefit — but there won't be very many of them, as the EITC also phases in and out fairly quickly:

(Courtesy Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

Worse yet, the EITC requires that you have wage income before you can claim it, so people without jobs are left out. Under the Trump plan, the very poorest parents will get no child care help at all. As Alan Cole, a Tax Foundation analyst, told Bloomberg, "the largest benefits will go to relatively affluent dual-income families using paid child care."

Bryce Covert makes two more key points: First, there is already a program to help lower-income families with child care costs, for up to $4,800 per year — but it hasn't been fully funded of late due to Republican austerity. Second, yearly tax benefits are a bad way to help cash-strapped poor families with constant expenses like child care — far better to have a monthly payment so people don't have to juggle budgets or savings accounts.

So we see the overall shape of Ivanka Trump's signature policy idea. Wealthy families who can easily front the cash for a daycare or an au pair will get a nice fat tax reduction when their accountant files their taxes for them — and the richer they are, they more they will get, up to quite a high bar. The top half of poor families will get a few scraps, assuming they can navigate their way through the hellish paperwork to claim the EITC properly, while the poorest of the poor will get little or nothing.

Welcome to President Trump's America!

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