The American corporate tax system is badly broken. Some corporations pay more than a third of their profits in federal income taxes, while other equally profitable firms pay nothing at all. On average, corporations pay just 12.6 percent of their profits in federal income taxes, according to a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Corporate and political leaders keep telling us that cutting corporate tax rates will create jobs.
Our examination of the evidence found no relationship between cutting tax rates on corporate profits and job growth.
We examined the job creation track record of 60 large, profitable U.S. corporations (from a list of 280 Fortune 500 companies) with the highest and lowest effective tax rates between 2008 and 2010 and found:
- 22 of the 30 corporations that paid the highest tax rates (30 percent or more) on their reported profits created almost 200,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012. Only eight of the 30 firms paying high tax rates reported reducing the number of employees between 2008 and 2012.
- The 30 profitable corporations that paid little or no taxes over three years collectively shed 51,289 jobs; half of these low-tax firms created some jobs, and half shed jobs between 2008 and 2012.
- Lowe's, the nation's second-largest home improvement store, paid over 36 percent in taxes on reported profits of $9 billion between 2008 and 2010, and hired an additional 28,820 employees between 2008 and 2012.
- Verizon, the nation's largest wireless provider, reported $32 billion in U.S. profits between 2008 and 2010, yet received tax refunds totaling $951 million and reduced the number of employees by almost 56,000 between 2008 and 2012.
In 2004, when a temporary "tax holiday" on offshore profits was put in place, 58 firms brought $218 billion in profits back to the U.S. under the program, for a savings of $64 billion on their taxes. In the following two years, those 58 firms eliminated 600,000 jobs.
In 2012, U.S. corporations reported earning nearly $1.8 trillion in profits. Had they paid the 35 percent tax rate on those profits, total corporate tax receipts would have been $630 billion (rather than the $242 billion they actually paid), and the deficit would have been reduced by nearly a third.
Today, large U.S. corporations report more than $1 trillion in cash or liquid assets. They have the funds to invest in new jobs, should they choose to do so. We found no evidence that cutting the tax rate on corporate profits induces firms to create new jobs in the United States. However, several legal loopholes and deductions do discourage job creation in the U.S. and should be eliminated. This would raise significant revenue and make the tax code fairer.