Poll: 1 in 4 Americans Want Their Taxes to Go to Education

It’s that time of year again. Millions of Americans are preparing to hunker down over desks, computers and papers to file their taxes. If 2019 is anything like 2016 — the most recent year with available data — around $1.4 trillion in income taxes will go to the federal government.

While hunting down W2, trying to find exactly what amount goes in each section of your tax form, and thinking about your tax refund, it’s easy to forget why you’re filing taxes in the first place. Income taxes account for nearly half of the federal budget, and payroll taxes — paid by both employers and workers — make up more than a quarter. The federal budget is then used to pay for a wide variety of services, jobs, and support systems across the nation. Some of these expenditures are fairly large, like social security. Others are relatively small, like public broadcasting.

Ultimately, Congress decides how the tax dollars are allocated, though certain programs like Medicare have mandatory budgets. But if taxpayers are footing the bill, shouldn’t they get a say?

We wanted to know what Americans want their tax dollars spent on most. We polled 1,000 Americans to find out what they want their tax dollars spent on most. Below are our key findings.

Key Findings

  • 1 in 4 want their taxes spent on education.
  • 1 in 5 want their taxes to go toward healthcare.
  • 17% of adults under 35 want the environment and sustainability prioritized.
how taxes are spent compared to how Americans want them spent

26 Percent of Americans Want Their Taxes Spent on Education

Once upon a time, a college education all but guaranteed a well-paying job. You could put your four years in and have jobs lined up before you finished crossing the graduation stage. Now, a degree is a prerequisite just for unpaid internships. More Americans than ever have degrees. Yet, one-third of them are underemployed.  

The cost of not getting a formal education is high, but so is the price tag on a degree. Over the past thirty years, the average cost of tuition at a four-year university has increased by 213 percent. Student debt has ballooned to massive proportions. In total, $1.5 trillion in student debt is weighing down around 44 million U.S. borrowers. That’s over $34,000 per person if it were split up evenly.

student loan debt

Student debt has received much of the blame for millennials’ financial woes, but millennials aren’t the only ones concerned with education spending. Respondents age 35–44 — a mix of older millennials and younger Gen X — were the most likely to want their taxes spent on education.

This could perhaps be due to the 30 percent increase in student loan debt for people in their thirties. Overall, the United States pays more per student than the majority of countries. However, taxpayer funding for higher education is nearly 50 percent less than the average for other democratic free-market countries.

20 Percent Want Government Spending on Healthcare

Like education, healthcare has been a hot topic in the national discourse. The United States has the highest healthcare spending among high-income countries. A recent study by the Journal of American Medical Association found this is largely due to the higher prices in the U.S. From pharmaceuticals to administrative costs, Americans pay more than most people in other countries. Many are feeling that pain in their finances. Medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S.

The issue of health can seem particularly acute because it impacts people so directly. Illness and injuries can have huge effects on quality of life. Health is something everyone has direct experience with, regardless of demographics. The specific issues might change, but the need for care does not. In our survey, the desire for government spending on healthcare was high across age and gender.

Americans might want their tax dollars to go towards health care, but they don’t necessarily want to pay more taxes for it. In a recent study, we found 3 in 4 would not pay higher taxes for universal healthcare.

health care

So how much money is the government actually putting into health care? In the 2018 fiscal year, the government spent $517 billion on healthcare — not including Medicare. This spending included tax money as well as other sources of government income.

This is how the government spent some of that money:

  • $399 billion for Medicaid and CHIP
  • $70 billion for veterans’ medical care
  • $6 billion for Affordable Care Act subsidies

Millennials Want Spending on the Environment Prioritized

2018 saw several natural disasters and record high temperatures. Hurricane Florence flooded the Carolinas in September, surpassing both states rain records. In October, the Florida panhandle had its first ever category 4 hurricane make landfall, devastating Panama City. November brought massive fires throughout the state of California. The Camp Fire, the deadliest in the state’s history, destroyed more than 150,000 acres and 13,000 homes.

There were also several sustainability movements that gained momentum. Plastic bag ban trends continued. Sales of hybrids and electric vehicles continued to climb. The movement to stop using plastic straws — which can take decades to centuries to degrade — really took off. Several cities, states and companies traded the use of plastic straws for more sustainable alternatives.

environmental sustainability

When it comes to environmental spending, millennials and the government might not see eye to eye. After education and health, spending on the environment and sustainability was most important to millennials. Actual spending on those issues makes up less than a percent of the U.S. budget. In fact, it’s trending in the opposite direction millennials might want. Since 2016, spending by the Environmental Protection Agency has actually decreased by more than $800 million dollars.

Whether you hate, tolerate, or appreciate taxes, they serve a purpose. From social security to national defense, the U.S. government uses tax dollars to fund services across the nation. How satisfied you are with how that money is spent largely depends on your preferences. If you prioritize social security you may be happy with the government budget. If you’re drowning in student debt or a medical bill is ruining your credit, you might wish your tax dollars were spent differently.