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It Doesn't Pay To Be Single

Barack Obama
AP
Barack Obama

What is it with families? I was pretty thrilled with Obama's speech todayabout the need for swift, bloated stimulus (maybe he read my last post), with one glaring exception.

He said, "to get people spending again, 95 percent of working families will receive a $1,000 tax cut." Nothing wrong with that policy-wise, it's the verbiage that bothers me. I'm assuming single people will get a similar tax-cut, but maybe not. Why couldn't he have just said, "working people?"

In this country our tax code goes overboard to favor married people and parents over the single and childless.

Married couples get special treatment when it comes to IRA contributions too. And public as well as most private employers provide special benefits to their workers that only help employees who happen to be living in wedlock. And yes, I know there used to be a significant tax penalty for being married that was mostly done away with before I started paying taxes. I could care less about how things used to be. These days, it doesn't pay to be single.

For example, if I were to marry my girlfriend tomorrow, I would suddenly get free health insurance and collectively we'd probably pay less in taxes. I recommend anyone without medical insurance get married to someone who does post haste. Just remember that saying, "honey, I need to see a doctor, let's get married so I can mooch off your benefits," is the wrong way to propose.

I won't complain that it's unfair to single people when politicians subsidize marriage and pander to families, although it is. My problem is that when the government favors married couples over single people, it's yet another way in which "the system" in America favors the old over the young. It's more stealthy and subtle than social security or Medicare, but, effectively, taxing married couples less than single individuals means taxing young people more than older people. After all, twenty-somethings are less likely to be married than people in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.

Supporters of unions like to gripe about how there is class war in this country, the rich have been winning for years, and so talking about it has become verboten. But there's an intergenerational war too, along similar lines. The old, the married, the established keep on winning, and the rest of us don't even realize we're getting the short end of the stick.

Questions? Comments? Send them to millennialmoney@cnbc.com