Find the latest episode of "This Is Uncomfortable" here. Listen

Payroll tax cut, what payroll tax cut?

Sally Herships Dec 19, 2011

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly described the size of the payroll tax cut Congress is debating whether to extend. The tax was cut to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent, a reduction of two percentage points. The text has been corrected.

Kai Ryssdal: The on-again, off-again negotiations over the payroll tax cut that we thought were settled Friday afternoon are now off — again. The House and Senate are, as of this moment, resolved to disagree over how long it should be extended for. The cut in Social Security taxes last year took that tax down from 6 to just over 4 percent of people’s paychecks. If there’s no deal, it goes back up come January 1st. But for all the back-and-forth coming from Capitol Hill, do consumers know what the tax cut really is? And if so, what’re they’re doing with their extra 2 percent? Sally Herships has more.


Sally Herships: This story is not about the 99 percent, it’s about the 2 percentage point cut in the payroll tax. That tax funds Social Security. But has anyone even heard of the tax cut and how much extra money they got? I took a quick poll at New York’s Grand Central Station to find out.

 

Steven Hauck: No, I don’t.

Brent Stephens: No.

Georgia Thornton: I have never heard of it.

When I finally met someone, Nicole Kindred, who knew about the tax cut, it turned out she’s supposed to know about it.

Herships: So have you heard of the payroll tax cut?

Nicole Kindred: Yes.

Herships: You’re the first person I’ve spoken to today.

Kindred: I’m in HR. I’m the head of my company’s HR.

Herships: When you first got your paychecks this year, were you like ‘awesome, 2 extra percent’?

Kindred: No, I did not notice.

Once we calculated that Kindred got about a $100 extra a month, she was pretty sure she saved it. Others knew they were spending it not saving it. Like MBA student Loran Cheng.

Loran Cheng: As a student I was probably saving $100 a month; in Austin, that’s a lot. So, that’s like 100 beers, every night.

But Cheng says she bought a lot of books last year. No one was more sure they were spending than Georgia Thornton, a teacher from Miami.

Georgia Thornton: Yes.

Herships: What do you think it went on, your extra $400, $500, $600?

Thornton: Shoes, clothes. Yes, definitely. I was trying to stimulate the economy, local merchants, that’s where I was spending my money.

Exactly what the government would have wanted. In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.