National Numeracy Network > NNN Blog > Tax Pain

Tax Pain

Nathan Grawe
published Feb 19, 2014

Politifact has taken up an interesting question: What is the pain of the US federal tax code? They took up the topic by way of evaluating a claim by Sen. Wyden that Americans spend 6.1 billion hours and $160 billion complying with federal tax law.

Ultimately, Politifact conclude Wyden got those numbers right. In fact, they add some more measures of the pain:

  • The tax code is 3.8 million words, up more than 170% since 2001.
  • If you want a copy of the code all for yourself to consult as you do your taxes (and who wouldn't!), you'll need to buy 25 volumes and provide 9 feet of shelf space.
  • No doubt a result of the complexity, 99% of filers resort to help from software or tax preparers.
In a nice bit of best-practice journalism, Politifact goes a little further by asking "Compared to what?" 6.1 billion hours is "695,870 years..., averaging 44 hours for every completed tax return." Of course, there are sub-groups in the data and so the mean may or may not be representative of any group at all. I suspect there are some spending far longer on their returns to account for all of those lucky enough to file a 1040EZ.

If you put all of those hours into dollars (using the average compensation of US workers reported in the Statistical Abstract of the US), we devote more than $200 billion per year on taxes.

I hope this post gives you comfort as you work on your own taxes; you've got company!

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