As much as I can, I try to read the classic literature that somehow eluded me while in high school. I have been reading The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck and thinking about the migrant farm workers picking fruit and cotton in California during the Great Depression. Did any of these people pay income taxes? I’m confident the answer is “NO.”
The Grapes of Wrath, although a book of fiction, is historically very accurate, right down to the wage rates. Cotton farmers paid about $1.00 per 100lbs of cotton picked, and wages dropped as the number of unemployed workers multiplied and as the country moved deeper into depression. A healthy male picker could make up to $3.00 per day. Almost everything they made was spent on food, and it was barely enough to survive.
I found some scholarly writings from the University of California stating that a vast majority of the farm owners at the time were deeply in debt and way behind on their taxes, so there is little doubt whether the laborers were paying taxes if the owners weren’t. Furthermore, the migrant workers had no permanent homes; it would have been difficult for the government to track them down.
Many families find themselves in similar circumstances today: making barely enough to get by even on their pre-tax income and desperately seeking tax relief in one form or another for debts that are already on the books.