Does the Tax Code discriminate against women?

By Caroline Bruckner, Managing Director of the Kogod Tax Policy Center

indexWomen-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing segments of our economy. Between 1997 and 2013, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 59% – 1.5 times the rate of U.S. businesses overall, according to a 2013 Women-Owned Business Report prepared by American Express. What’s more, over the past 16 years, employment by companies owned by female entrepreneurs is up by 10% and their revenues grew by 63%. Both increases exceed those of all but the largest, publicly traded firms. Today, more than 8.6 million U.S. businesses are owned by women. They generate more than $1.3 trillion in revenues and employ nearly 7.8 million people.

Those are impressive figures, especially considering that women business owners face many challenges men do not, such as having a much harder time accessing capital than their male counterparts. Only 4% of all commercial loan dollars go to women, in fact. But what other hurdles must they overcome? What about the U.S. tax code? Is the tax code—first codified more than 100 years ago, before women even won the right to vote—written in a way that inherently discriminates against women entrepreneurs?

The Kogod Tax Policy Center, with WIPP’s help, intends to find out.

Kogod will perform groundbreaking research in the coming months into whether small business tax incentives discriminate against women business owners—a question that has received scant attention from policymakers and academia.

Given the current political and budget environment, we think that researching and answering this question is vital to informing Congress about the policy implications of existing small business tax incentives as policymakers look to move forward with tax reform.

The tax code is ripe with provisions designed to specifically target various taxpayer populations like small businesses, veterans, and low-income workers. However, little academic or policy study has been dedicated to the tax challenges women business owners face and whether small business tax incentives favor men.

But how could the tax code discriminate against women? It can’t see the difference between male and female any more than it can play the piano or skip rope. Well, let’s look at some details of the tax code’s inception:

  • The income tax code was written in 1913.
  • Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.
  • Women weren’t able to fully access credit until 1974.

Women business owners weren’t even a footnote as our nation’s tax code was being written and developed. Simply because the tax code is supposedly gender neutral does not mean it impacts people equally.

We plan to analyze the federal budget implications of annual small business tax expenditures in relation to how many women-owned firms claim them.

We recently announced our project at WIPP’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Washington, D.C. As part of the study, Kogod will partner with WIPP to survey women business owners to determine how they view the tax code and its impact on their business, so watch your inbox and make sure to participate so we can use your experience and voice in our study!

Given the enormous role women entrepreneurs play in our economy, answering these questions will determine whether they are playing on a level field and could lead to positive policy changes that help the economy overall by boosting women’s entrepreneurial output even more.

The time has come to review the tax code and determine whether the specific tax provisions are serving women entrepreneurs so they can fully unleash their economic potential.

 

If you have questions about our research, want to help support the Kogod Tax Policy Center with a gift or would like to participate in the survey, contact Caroline Bruckner at cbruck@american.edu.

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