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Behind The Numbers
Ramona Shindelheim
ABC News
January 24, 2004

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 43 percent of Americans approve of Bush's handling of the economy, while 53 percent disapprove.

The poll also found that 61 percent of Americans believe the president's stimulus plan mostly benefits the wealthy. Bush and his economic team argue that it is not tilted toward the rich, but instead would help lower- and middle-class Americans.

ABC News decided to take a closer look at the numbers, using the president's comments at a speech in St. Louis on Wednesday as our guidepost. We did our own calculations. But we also called the U.S. Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the Urban Institute-Brookings Institute Tax Policy Center and an independent certified public accountant for help crunching numbers.

What the president said:
"92 million Americans will keep an average of $1,083 more of their own money when this tax plan goes through"

What we found:
If you look at the average for all taxpayers, this is correct.

However, this average is derived from all income levels and all estimated savings. This skews the number upward.

According to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institute, 80 percent of all tax filers would receive less than the $1,083 average the president mentioned.

Meanwhile, half of all tax filers would get less than $100.

We asked the Treasury Department, which calculated the figure used by the president, to give us an estimate on the percentage of Americans receiving the $1,083. A spokesperson said the department could only provide us with the average savings.

What the president said:
"A family of four with an income of $40,000 will receive a 96 percent tax cut."

What we found:
This is based on Treasury Department calculations, which show a 96 percent savings in federal income tax only. The majority of the benefit comes from an increase in the child tax credit and speeding up the reduction in the marriage penalty.

We asked Doug Stives, a New Jersey-based CPA and tax expert, to crunch the numbers for a married couple with two children, earning $35,000.

The marriage penalty and child tax credit changes would save them $1,098 a year.

The McAllister Family, 2 Adults, 2 Children
Earnings: $35,000
Child Tax Credit: $800
Marriage Penalty Relief: $198
Tax Rate Reduction: $100
Total Savings: $1,098

What the president said:
"23 million small business owners will receive an average tax cut of $2,042 under this plan"

What we found:
This number from the Treasury Department is correct, if you average in all the potential savings across all income levels.

The Urban Institute-Brookings Institute calculated that 79 percent of small business owners would get less than the $2,042, with 52 percent getting less than $500. The government defines small business owners as anyone with small business income, including high-income earners who have some investments in small businesses.

It is not limited to people who run small businesses on a day-to-day basis.

What the president said:
"More than 40 percent of the people who receive dividends make under $50,000 a year."

What we found:
We did the math ourselves using the IRS-provided data on Individual Income Taxes for 2000, the last year for which the information is available. Forty-six percent of all tax filers claiming dividend income had a gross income of less than $50,000.

But that 46 percent accounts for just 19 percent of the dollar amount of dividend income earned.

Here's the breakdown on the 34.1 million returns claiming dividend income in 2000.

What Will You Save?
Earnings Percent of Filers Percent of All Dividend Income
Less Than $50,000 46% 19%
$50,000 - $200,000 47% 38%
More than $200,000 2% 38%

What the president said: "The Council of Economic Advisers said these proposals over the next three years will create 2.1 million jobs."

What we found:
The CEA report says 190,000 of the jobs would come in 2003 (about the same number jobs that the economy lost in November and December, according to the Labor Department). The majority of the rest of the jobs would come in 2004

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