By Becket Adams
March 2, 2019
Tax refunds are up from where they were this time last year by 1.3 percent following the fourth week of the 2019 filing season, according to new Internal Revenue Service data.
To be more specific, the average tax refund has increased to $3,143 from $3,103 last February, according to cumulative statistics comparing the 2018 and 2019 filing seasons.
Oddly enough, certain newsrooms have responded to this development with total silence. I say “odd,” because it was just a few weeks ago that these same newsrooms rushed to report that tax refunds were smaller this year, suggesting either implicitly or explicitly that the decrease was tied to the Republican Party’s tax reform bill.
“Millions of Americans could be stunned as their tax refunds shrink,” read a headline published on Feb. 10 by the Washington Post. The story reported, “Many Americans may confuse their meager refunds as a sign that they paid more in taxes as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Generally, that is not true.” On Feb. 14, the Post ran a story titled, “IRS says average tax refund is down nearly 9 percent so far this year.”
That story included a line that reads, “Many early filers are still upset about getting a smaller refund or unexpectedly owing money, even if they did pay lower taxes overall as a result of the Republican tax bill that passed in December 2017.”
As of March 2, the Post has published nothing showing the average refund is now greater than it was at this point in 2018.
Then, there’s the New York Times, which reported on Feb. 12, “Smaller Tax Refunds Surprise Those Expecting More Relief.” (The clear but false implication, contrasting “Smaller Tax Refunds” to tax “Relief,” is that the law didn’t really cut taxes.) That story reported: “The tax overhaul that took effect last year promised relief, but now that returns are being filed, some people are baffled. They’re getting smaller refunds — or sometimes having to write a check — even though nothing in their situation seems to have changed.”
On Feb. 14, the Times also published a story titled, “As Refunds Shrink, Treasury Dept. Reminds Workers of Bigger Paychecks.” On Feb. 22, the paper published a report titled, “Why a Tax Cut Might Not Mean a Bigger Refund.”
As of March 2, the Times has published nothing detailing the new IRS data.
“Anger, Confusion Over Dwindling Refunds. Is Trump’s Tax Plan To Blame?” National Public Radio asked on Feb. 14. The Associated Press reported on Feb. 19, “I owe how much? Americans shocked by impact of new tax law.”
As of March 2, you guessed it, neither NPR nor the AP has published anything about the new refunds statistics.
To be fair, there are a couple of important points that need be made.
First, not all newsrooms have ignored the latest information from the IRS. USA Today, Yahoo News, CBS News, and CNN have been diligent. Good on them. Also, though the Post has yet to report on the new data, its fact-checking team did a good job last month dismantling Sen. Kamala Harris’, D-Calif., nonsense claim that the smaller refunds were the fault of the GOP tax cuts.
Secondly, tax returns are still incoming, and it has been slower going this year than it was in 2018. We’ve still a way to go, and it’d be premature to suggest now that the latest IRS data prove newsrooms and pundits were wrong to highlight the initial numbers. It’d be premature to suggest that the new data prove anything.
But that’s kind of the entire point here: If the first round of refund numbers was enough to a feeding frenzy of media coverage suggesting tax-cut were to blame, why aren’t these same newsrooms jumping all over these new IRS figures with similarly premature analysis?
I think we can guess why. I just want to hear them say it.