The Internal Revenue Service’s sub-par (to put it mildly) treatment of Black taxpayers isn’t exactly a secret. But there’s a difference between seeing numbers on a spreadsheet and an outright admission from the top, which is exactly what we got this week. In a letter to Congress, IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel coped to the fact that the IRS is more likely to audit Black taxpayers.
“While there is a need for further research, our initial findings support the conclusion that Black taxpayers may be audited at higher rates than would be expected given their share of the population,” Werfel wrote to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter obtained by The New York Times.
As we said, none of this is new information. In fact, The Root has been covering these disparities for years. In 2019, Michael Harriot reported that the ten counties with the highest rates of IRS service tax audits were “overwhelmingly Black” and low-income;
It is impossible that this is unintentional. This is not a byproduct of data-driven decisions. This is not a coincidence, or even an example of disparate impact. It is an indisputable fact that the IRS targets taxpayers who live in poor black communities and leaves white people alone. And there is only one logical explanation for that fact:
The IRS released a report earlier this year which found that they were three to five times more likely to audit Black taxpayers than non-Black taxpayers.
On Monday, the IRS commissioner said his office is working to change that. He suggested that part of that change could be less of a focus on people who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (although, as we’ve previously reported on, that likely wouldn’t fix the entire problem). The IRS currently doesn’t track race-based data in their tax filing process, which progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren argue would allow the IRS to better track for racial bias. Werfel did not commit to collecting this data for research at the hearing.
At the end of the day, the fact that the IRS is admitting they have a problem is great, but we’re clearly still a ways away from real change.