Guest Blog: Supporting Fathers through the Earned Income Tax Credit

This post was written by Natalie Holmes, a research analyst with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is often discussed in terms of its effects on single mothers. Father’s Day provides a good reminder that millions of low-income working dads–and their children–also benefit from the EITC.

Using Brookings’ MetroTax model, we estimate that 9.7 million working dads and their 17.9 million children were eligible to receive the EITC in 2014. Among these fathers, over half (57 percent) were projected to file joint returns, and the remaining 43 percent as heads of household. We also estimate that 3.8 million single male filers without qualifying children were EITC-eligible in the same year.

Although the majority of EITC-eligible fathers file joint tax returns, single dads are more likely than married dads to be EITC-eligible: We estimate that three in five single dads were potentially eligible to receive the EITC in 2014, compared to just over one in five married fathers, and one in eight single male filers without qualifying children.

Perhaps counterintuitively, this last group is not necessarily childless. A child can only be the “qualifying child” of one tax filer. Consequently, noncustodial parents, even those who provide support for their children, may not be able to claim them as qualifying children for the EITC.

This matters because the difference between the maximum credit for filers with qualifying children and those without is significant. Whereas the maximum credit for workers with three or more children will be nearly $6,300 in tax year 2016, it is just $506 for workers without qualifying children.

Recognition of the fact that “childless” filers may in fact be noncustodial parents is part of the rationale for bipartisan proposals to double the size of the EITC for workers without qualifying children. Millions of low-income working fathers and their children already benefit from the EITC each year; according to our analysis, doubling the credit for workers without qualifying children would benefit 14.4 million tax filers, increasing their average credit by $360.