Some have alleged taxes will be going up in 2021. Are they right?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) is the hallmark legislation of the Trump administration, and no American taxpayer was unaffected. But was this legislation a Trojan horse that could lead to you paying higher taxes starting in 2021?

The Joint Committee on Taxation released a chart indicating that federal taxes for those making between $10,000 and $30,000 would actually go up starting in 2021.


A table describing distributional affects of the TCJA by income. Joint Committee on Taxation

The new tax brackets for 2021 have the same rates, and the only changes are the income brackets that have been adjusted for inflation. What's driving this higher tax rate for these particular brackets?

That links back to the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The TCJA lowered the individual mandate penalty, the penalty paid to the government if you do not have a health insurance policy, to zero. This means there will be no tax implications to not carrying an insurance policy.

Under the ACA, individuals within 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level were eligible to receive tax credits to offset the costs of these plans. With no individual mandate penalty, the expectation is that less people will sign up for insurance. Less people signing up for insurance will lead to less people receiving the tax credits, which would lead to an increase in the average tax rate across this group.

That doesn't mean that you are in the clear if you make above $30,000. Remember how income brackets are adjusted for inflation? The TCJA also changed how inflation is calculated. Tax brackets used to be adjusted off of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), an index that tracks the prices of goods and services across different geographical areas.

The Consumer Price Index tracks how much more you are paying because of inflation each year. But the IRS now measures inflation against the chained CPI. The idea behind the chained CPI is that if prices rise, customers will change their purchasing habits and substitute goods. For example, if the price of orange juice rises faster than the price of apple juice, chained CPI assumes that people will lower the amount of orange juice that they are buying and substitute that by buying more apple juice. CPI tracks a fixed basket of goods while the basket of goods tracked by chained CPI changes periodically.

Because chained CPI assumes that consumers are going to seek out substitutes for products with rising price tags, it rises more slowly than traditional CPI. Thus, the IRS will adjust tax brackets upward more gradually, and you are likely to move into a higher tax bracket faster than you would under the old calculations.


A graph showing chained CPI rising at a much slower rate than CPI from 2000 to 2020 Chained CPI calculates the cost of everyday goods rising more slowly than calculations based on traditional CPI.Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


If the cost of consumer prices rises 2% and you receive a similar 2% raise, normally you would be able to maintain your lifestyle. However, if the tax brackets only increase 1.5% because tax brackets are now tied to chained CPI, you will be paying more in taxes because your income and expenses will be rising faster than the rate the IRS is using. Because the tax rate is being adjusted for 2021 and will be adjusted in future years, this will compound over time, and has led to a slew of recent articles discussing a tax hike starting in 2021.

Congress passed the TCJA through budget reconciliation to avoid a filibuster, but that meant that the law could not increase the long-term budget deficit. As a result, Republicans decided to include a provision to have the individual tax cuts expire in 2025 while making the lower corporate tax rates and the chained CPI method of adjusting tax brackets permanent. The increased standard deduction and the larger child tax credit will also expire at this time. And because of the continued use of the chained CPI method, people will actually be paying higher taxes after the TCJA then they would if it had never been passed in the first place.


The change in federal taxes by year from the TCJA broken out by income distribution. Joint Committee on Taxation

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Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.

What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.

The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.

There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!

Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.

Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.

That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying

the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.

This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.

Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.

That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?

Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”

While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."

In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.

We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.

As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.

What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.

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Did you hear about the Great Resignation? It isn’t over. Just over two years of pandemic living, many offices are finally returning to full-time or hybrid experiences. This is causing employees to totally reconsider their positions.

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