Apr 13, 2015

Question of the Day: How many teenagers file tax returns?

Happy Monday, NGPF community! It’s lucky day 13 of Financial Literacy Month 2015, and I’m here with a pre-tax-day Question of the Day:

How many teenagers file tax returns?

My new favorite go-to resource, the Tax Foundation has an awesome publications of charts called “Putting a Face on America’s Tax Returns,” and I’ve found this winner to help answer my question:

If I can take a minute to express my amazement: That’s a HUGE discrepancy between the percentage of taxpayers under 18 in 1997 vs 2011! Across the board, in that 14 year time span, the percentage of tax payers aged substantially, but only 1.3% were teens in 2011. If you’re using this in the classroom, it might be interesting to have your students speculate why this is the case:

  • Are jobs harder to come by for teens (my recent students in Brooklyn had a MUCH harder time finding part-time work than I did 15-20 years earlier in Western PA)?
  • Are teens more focused on school work, volunteerism, and unpaid internships to boost college acceptance chances than they are on fast food work?
  • Is it the result of tax policy changes (perhaps the income limit for requiring teens to file was much higher in 2011 than 1997)?

Getting back to my original Question of the Day, we need to know how many filers there were in 2011. The same report (it’s on page 14, if you’re looking for it) says 145 million, which means 1,885,000 tax filers were under 18. There are undoubtedly more teens than that working in the US. They could have made less than the minimum required to file and decided against filing (even though they most likely would have received a refund — lost money!). There are also teens who make their money solely in cash, and although they’re supposed to report earnings just like anyone else, don’t.

Just for fun, here’s a little more tax data by age group. Not surprisingly, teenagers paid less than a tenth a percent  of all income tax in 2011…

… in part because they earned so little money.


OK, as a former math teacher, I could chart all day. Happy Financial Literacy Month #FLM2015!

Below are some great follow-up questions to ask your students about this resource:

  1. Why do you think there is a decrease in the percentage of teenagers filing taxes from 1997 to 2011?
  2. Take a look at the 2nd chart in the blog post. Why do you think that 74% of income taxes are paid by people who are 45 years and older?
  3. How does age impact the amount of taxes paid an individual? (In other words, what is the relationship between age and amount of taxes paid?)

Want this resource and questions in slide format to use in class? Click here!

About the Author

Jessica Endlich

When I started working at Next Gen Personal Finance, it's as though my undergraduate degree in finance, followed by ten years as an educator in an NYC public high school, suddenly all made sense.

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