Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Study: Poor, rural taxpayers most likely to be audited due to earned-income credit; map has county-level data

ProPublica map from Kim Bloomquist's data; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
Poor, rural taxpayers are far more likely to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service, according to a newly published study. Eight of the top 10 most-audited counties are poor and rural, and the top five are all rural counties in the Deep South with majority African American populations, Paul Kiel and Hannah Fresques report for ProPublica.

That's by design: Congressional Republicans pushed through a 2015 law meant to ensure that taxpayers weren't improperly claiming the earned income tax credit. The EITC is a federal program meant to help low-income workers get out of poverty.

Kim Bloomquist, who served as a senior economist in the IRS' research division for two decades, did the study to illustrate how the emphasis on EITC audits affects different regions in the country. "Because more than a third of all audits are of EITC recipients, the number of audits in each county is largely a reflection of how many taxpayers there claimed the credit, he found," Kiel and Fresques report.

EITC audits can devastate some taxpayers, since they can take more than a year and taxpayers don't get their refund until it's resolved. The wait time is exacerbated by low staffing levels at the IRS. And though the IRS sponsors a program that gives free legal help to low-income taxpayers facing audits, it's not enough. In Mississippi, the most heavily audited state, the program has only one attorney to cover all 82 counties. The IRS audits about 11,000 returns in Mississippi each year.

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