It is not a secret that college graduates and graduate students are poor. The pursuit of higher education is expensive, and the payoff of a master’s degree or Ph.D. is rarely immediate. These students typically have other jobs, and rely heavily on grants and other nontaxable sources of income that allow them to pay for basic necessities.
But this standard is jeopardized by the new tax system being devised by Congress. It has been controversial from the outset, and remains as such now that it has passed through the House and is being debated in the Senate. There has been much to reconcile between each version, including the amount of tax brackets (four compared to seven), proposed oil drilling and a repeal of an Obamacare tax. What is certain at this point is that this new tax system stands to benefit the wealthiest Americans, and adversely affect the lower-middle class and students enrolled in institutes of higher learning.
While the bill is being sold as a modest tax cut for all Americans, this does not even begin to address the complexity of its plan to disperse these cuts. For starters, it proposes the elimination of a multitude of deductions, including those for state and local taxes. An estimated 44 million Americans relied on these, especially citizens of high-tax states such as New York and California. Even though it increases the standard deduction and child tax-credits, these do not cover the incurred costs of the numerous other revoked deductions.
This is especially true in the case of students. The House has decided to repeal critical tax provisions for graduate students, including the student loan interest deduction, the Hope Scholarship credit, the Lifetime Learning credit and other educational assistance programs. Removing these benefits would dramatically increase the already barely sustainable cost of living for those enrolled in graduate programs, potentially increasing taxes by as much as 300%.
This could effectively undermine the framework of the graduate education system, and could pose catastrophic consequences for both scientific progress and the United States economy. The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently drafted a memo voicing its opposition, cosigned by organizations ranging anywhere from the American Anthropological Association to the World History Association.
There is simply no plausible excuse for these repeals, especially if you consider that they are only necessary so the new tax system can accommodate the ridiculous and unnecessary 15% tax cut for corporations and the proposed cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The sweeping rate reductions that would occur in 2019 are ultimately ineffective for those making less than $200,000 a year, and even stand to be undone in 2021 for anyone making under $40,000 a year. By the end of the next decade, the deficit could increased by $1.5 trillion overall and the poorest Americans would be left still unable to pay their taxes.
It is a disaster waiting to be enacted, especially within the scope of this community. I, like many others at this school, plan on attending a graduate program. But now, that aspiration is wrapped in uncertainty, as my personal financial situation is not one that allows me to accommodate this cost increase. I wouldn’t be surprised if this also applies to many of my peers.
Action can still be taken. The bill is still trapped in deadlock and should head to a conference committee before it is officially passed. Contact your representatives, sign petitions and urge your peers and this school as a whole to do the same. Politics are known to tilt in favor of those who are active, and this is a battle we cannot afford to lose.
Jackson Rudoff is a first-year political science and English double major who is also minoring in French. You can usually find him in his room chanting the Canadian national anthem or talking about how much he loves his Nespresso machine.