How to talk about the economy and taxes with your family

How to talk about the economy and taxes with your family

- in Must Reads


[Editor’s note: The following guide of talking points was produced by the staff of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center. We hope it will prove useful over the holiday weekend.]

We know that the dinner table tomorrow, and throughout the holiday season, will likely provide a unique opportunity to debate and discuss public issues with relatives who hold a different perspective. This is a great chance to reach a new audience with the truth about what North Carolina must do to build an economy that works for all.

It has become a Budget & Tax Center tradition to offer tips for when family and friends turn to worn-out arguments about the economy and taxes. So here are some key facts to keep the conversation grounded in reality as you pass the gravy boat and say “yes, please” to a second—or third—piece of pecan pie.

WHEN YOUR RELATIVES SAY: “Well, at least those folks in Raleigh are cutting taxes; maybe that will help create jobs.”

YOU SAY:  The tax changes passed last year have already had an impact alright, but not the impact we need. North Carolina’s job growth is about the same as other states. What we know for sure, however, is that North Carolina has fewer dollars available for things that create good local economies like schools, community colleges, child care and health care.

Our state isn’t the first one to look to big tax cuts to spur economic development—Kansas, for example is a state that has taken this approach.  Revenue is so low that the state has a deficit that’s equivalent to one-tenth of their annual budget, and job growth has been slower than the national average and incomes haven’t grown much better either. The tax cuts are making us unable to compete with other states. As others have started to put money back into critical services that were cut, North Carolina continues to cut because of the tax cuts.

WHEN THEY SAY: “It’s great that policymakers cut taxes for everyone.”

YOU SAY: The reality is that a lot of people in North Carolina won’t see their taxes go down. The tax plan gets rid of a lot of tax deductions and credits that mean the income tax rate reduction will have the greatest benefit to those with the highest incomes. So Uncle Pat may do even better next year but Great Aunt Lib won’t be able to deduct her medical expenses and Cousin Jane with two kids in child care will likely pay more.

Those earning less than $84,000 a year will on average see their taxes go up when you include the different taxes that we pay—income and sales taxes.

WHEN THEY SAY: “This state is spending more than ever on public education.”

YOU SAY: We’re funding public schools in NC nearly 6.4 percent less than in 2008 when you adjust for how much things cost. This would be like the Panthers claiming a touchdown at the 6-yard line.

As the economy improves—and it is improving—we need to invest in our public schools to ensure that we educate our kids and build a sound foundation for future economic growth. Without investing more, we can’t ensure that our classrooms, teachers and students have the cutting-edge tools to improve learning.

WHEN THEY SAY:  “At least teachers got a raise this year.”

YOU SAY: Some teachers got a raise but not all of them. North Carolina still ranks near the bottom in compensation of those who educate our children. The result is many teachers are leaving the profession, signaling a potential shortage of teachers in the near future for our state.

It is critical that North Carolina be able to attract the best and brightest teachers and that means making sure that that teachers can make ends meet and focus on their work. After all, what is your child’s education worth?  Priceless, right?

WHEN THEY SAY: “For North Carolina to grow we need to attract more businesses to relocate here. Cutting taxes and giving corporations incentives will help.”

YOU SAY: Actually, lots of things besides taxes factor into a businesses’ decision about where to locate or expand. They need an educated workforce to help their company to thrive, and in-demand employees want a good quality of life for their families. But most importantly, businesses need someone to buy what they are selling and that doesn’t happen when middle- and low-income people are struggling.

Pumping money into incentives won’t even scratch the surface of the job growth we need. These programs produce very few jobs relative to the nearly half a million that are needed and they often subsidize decisions that businesses were already going to make based on other factors.

If North Carolina is going to do better economically, we need to focus on encouraging income growth for middle-class and low-income households.

WHEN THEY SAY: “People are too dependent on government programs and don’t want to work.”

YOU SAY:  [Take a breath] Way to get in the holiday spirit of charity!  But seriously, there just aren’t enough jobs for those who want to work right now. Even if an unemployed worker in North Carolina gets one of the available job openings there would still be two unemployed who can’t find a job.

Programs that help struggling families help people to keep a roof over their head while they look for a job. SNAP, often called Food Stamps, is a good example of that. This one program alone helps 1.7 million North Carolinians put food on the table—the equivalent of everyone living in the entire metro-area of Charlotte.

Want more points to cover during “second dessert” and football-watching? Check out our tax and budget materials ( and information on the economy via our Prosperity Watch series (

*The above image is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.