Should the IRS Know Your Race? The Challenge of Colorblind Tax Data

70 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2018 Last revised: 18 Nov 2020

See all articles by Jeremy Bearer-Friend

Jeremy Bearer-Friend

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: August 14, 2018


This Article draws from original archival sources to document a century of colorblindness in federal tax data. It traces the omission of race and ethnicity from IRS statistical publications since 1913, Joint Committee on Taxation publications since 1926, and Treasury Office of Tax Analysis publications since 1974. It shows how these omissions are exceptional relative to other areas of public policy where federal data on race and ethnicity are readily available, such as student achievement or healthcare exchange enrollments. It then evaluates the merits of colorblind tax data and argues that tax data should include race and ethnicity in order to meet goals of transparency, democracy, and equality. Colorblind tax data obscure racial inequality and prevent its remedy. Colorblind tax data also undermine the democratic accountability of tax policy. In fairness to the status quo practice of colorblindness by federal tax data institutions, this Article also considers whether the possible justifications for colorblind tax data should override principles of equality and transparency. It argues they should not. This Article concludes by proposing a variety of alternatives to the current colorblind tax data regime that do not require adding questions about race or ethnicity to Form 1040.

Keywords: Tax Administration, Tax Data, Tax Filing, Inequality

Suggested Citation

Bearer-Friend, Jeremy, Should the IRS Know Your Race? The Challenge of Colorblind Tax Data (August 14, 2018). 73 Tax Law Review 1 (2019), Available at SSRN:

Jeremy Bearer-Friend (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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