IRS audits Black, poor, rural Southern counties at higher rate than anywhere else
A new study reveals Humphreys County a poor, largely Black area of Tennessee is audited more than any wealthy area. Counties like it are far more likely to be penalized by the IRS.
A poor, rural county in Tennessee that is predominantly Black receives more audits from the IRS than any other county in the United States while rich counties skate by unbothered, according to a study published on tax professional news website Tax Notes.
Humphreys County, Tenn., where more than a third of its Black residents live below the poverty line and the median yearly household income is $26,000, somehow is on the IRS’ radar to audit at a higher rate than anywhere else in the nation, Salon reported. The irony is Humphreys County is audited at a rate that is 51 percent higher than wealthy Loudoun County, Virginia, which has a median yearly household income of $130,000, the highest in the country.
The reason is believed to be because the majority of taxpayers in Humphreys County claim the earned income tax credit, a government program to help lower income taxpayers get out of poverty.
Kim Bloomquist, who formerly worked as a senior economist in the IRS’ research division, authored the study. Bloomquist told ProPublica that the audit rates among counties seem to correlate with the number of residents who claimed the earned income tax credit.
The top five counties in the United States that were audited by the IRS were predominantly poorer, Black counties in the rural South. Other highly-audited counties included majority Hispanic counties in Texas, Native American areas in South Dakota, and white, rural spots in Appalachia, according to Salon.
Last year, ProPublica found that the IRS audits poor, EITC workers at higher rates than any other group, excluding Americans earning over $1 million annually.
The states that experienced the lowest IRS audit rates were largely white and middle-class, like Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. The safest taxpayer bracket were households with a median yearly income between $50,000 and $100,000, according to Salon.
What’s even more alarming about auditing poor, EITC taxpayers at a higher rate than wealthier Americans is that wealthier taxpayers generally commit more instances of tax evasion, which costs the agency more than $450 billion per year, according to the IRS. By comparison, poor people who file more fraudulent tax returns cost the agency $1.6 billion per year.
Yet audits of taxpayers who earn between $500,000 and $1 million have drastically dropped 71 percent since 2011, and audits of taxpayers making between $200,000 and $500,000 yearly have dropped by 74 percent, according to ProPublica.