Fact check: Meme uses misleading calculations on $15 minimum wage claim

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Devon Link, USA TODAY
·4 min read
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The claim: $15 minimum wage would qualify full-time workers for 52% tax rate

Proponents of increasing the federal hourly minimum wage to $15 continue to push the measure in Congress. The proposed increase has split lawmakers along party lines.

Some critics online are promoting false claims that the increase would subject all full-time employees to a 52% income tax.

One meme purports to demonstrate that increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would increase a worker's taxes so much that they would end up with less money than they do under the current $7.25 federal minimum wage.

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The taxation rate referenced in the claim is not current and the proposed tax policy would not affect workers earning a minimum wage-level annual salary.

“He wants a 52% tax on anybody making over $29,000/yr,” claims the meme.

It is not clear to who it is referring to, however; similar false claims have been made about both President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Activists appeal for a $15 minimum wage near the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill being prepped in Congress includes a provision that over five years would hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Activists appeal for a $15 minimum wage near the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill being prepped in Congress includes a provision that over five years would hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

USA TODAY asked the poster if the “he” was referring to Biden or Sanders in a request for comment. They did not respond.

Biden’s tax plan raises taxes for top earners

FactCheck.org debunked claims that Biden had raised top income and payroll taxes from 37% to 52% on Feb. 2. FactCheck.org quoted Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst with right-center-leaning think tank Tax Foundation.

“The 52% number for income and payroll tax is adding together the 39.6% rate above $400K and the proposed 12.4% Social Security payroll tax on income above $400K,” he said. “This would be the case for both employees and self-employed individuals, but it would be a top rate” — meaning income above the $400,000 — “not an effective rate on all income.”

Investopedia’s breakdown of Biden’s campaign tax plans confirms he proposed to raise the top federal income tax rate to 39.6% and payroll tax to 12.4% for individuals making more than $400,000 a year. The top individual federal income tax rate was 39.6% before President Donald Trump took office.

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It’s important to remember that although presidential tax recommendations have significant influence, the Constitution only grants Congress “the power to lay and collect taxes.”

Similar misinformation about Sanders’ plan

In February 2020, Lead Stories fact checked a nearly identical claim that argued the $15 minimum wage Sanders proposed during the 2020 Democratic primaries would qualify all full-time employee’s for a 52% income tax rate.

Lead stories rated that claim false since Sanders’ proposed income tax would only have affected those making more than $10 million a year.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would make full-time workers eligible for a 52% tax FALSE because it is not supported by our research. During his campaign, President Joe Biden proposed a federal tax policy that would raise income and payroll tax to a combined 52%, however, that tax rate would only apply to top earners making more than $400,000 a year.

Our fact-check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Meme misleads on tax rate for $15 minimum wage