Uncle Sam, Cardi B has a question.
Cardi B, for those unaware, is a reality TV star who broke out internationally last year with her hit song “Bodak Yellow.” Here’s a clean version of it, in case you haven’t heard it.
That song blew up, hitting No. 1 on the charts and being watched more than a half-billion times on YouTube. While selling tracks in the Internet era isn’t as lucrative as it once was, between touring, streaming revenue and other songs on which she made an appearance, it’s clear that Cardi did all right for herself last year.
So much so that she’s now complaining about her taxes.
You may have noticed all of the gaps in the song above, places where she used, uh, adult language. She does that with some regularity, meaning that to get to the point of this article we can’t just embed the Instagram video in which she questions where her tax money is going. So here’s a transcript.
“So you know the government is taking 40 percent of my taxes. And, Uncle Sam, I want to know what you’re doing with my f—ing tax money. Because, you know what I’m saying? When you donate, when you donate to a kid from a foreign country, they give you updates of what they’re doing with your donation.”
“I want to know what you’re doing with my f—ing tax money because I’m from New York and the streets are always dirty. We were voted the dirtiest city in America. What are y’all doing? There’s still rats on the damn trains. I know you’re not spending it in no damn prison because y’all be giving [people] two underwear, one jumpsuit for five months. So what are y’all [people] doing with my f—ing money? What is y’all doing with my f—ing money? I want to know. I want receipts.”
Let’s answer this!
First of all, Cardi is blaming Uncle Sam (that is, the federal government) for things that aren’t Sam’s fault.* It’s true that last month New York City was voted the dirtiest in America, which isn’t hugely surprising. But that’s not a federal issue, it’s a city issue.
The rats on the trains (which also happens) are an interesting case. The subway system is owned by the city but run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is controlled and funded by the state. The MTA’s funding problems are extensive and legendary, and we’ll leave it to the New York Times to untangle that mess should it choose to do so.
Spending on prisons? Closer to the mark. There are state and federal prisons, and we can drill down into the federal budget to answer Cardi’s question.
To put these figures into context, let’s start by making a guess at how much Cardi paid in federal taxes. Let’s assume she made $20 million last year, a guess based largely on nothing. (Royalties for songs are often hard to suss out, since record companies recognize that it’s not terribly useful to them to have that information public.) If she earned $20 million in income and paid 40 percent in federal taxes (as she suggests in her Instagram video), that’s $8 million paid to Uncle Sam.
The White House estimates that the government will collect $3.34 trillion in taxes this year. Assuming Cardi paid $8 million (which, again, is a figure I made up), she’s contributing $1 of every $417,500.
For the 2018 budget year, the Bureau of Prisons requested about $7.2 billion. The amount the federal government is expected to spend this year is much larger than the amount it’s expected to take in — that’s the budget deficit. The government’s expected to spend $4.17 trillion, meaning that the prison funding makes up about 0.17 of a percent of all federal spending. If we apply that percentage to Cardi’s taxes, she’s spending about $13,800 on the federal prisons. There are 183,595 federal inmates, meaning that Cardi’s funding the equivalent of about 8 cents per inmate (again, assuming this $8 million number).
But let’s step back and answer her broader question. Where is her tax money going?
Using administration estimates, we broke out federal spending by category and figured out where her $8 million might end up, assuming an even distribution across spending programs.
It looks like this.
Nearly half her tax money will go to Social Security, Medicare and health-care services. Another big chunk goes to paying off interest on the federal debt.
We’ve listed every item for which she would spend more than $100,000; there are 67 total subcategories. Two, in particular, earned a mention in her Instagram video: That spending on “correctional activities” and “ground transportation” — given that the MTA does receive federal money.
Broken out in broader categories, here’s where Cardi’s money is going.
Mostly social programs, plus the military and interest. Combined, those four things make up 85 percent of federal spending.
There are your receipts. As for the dirty streets of New York, you’ll want to contact Mayor Bill de Blasio, not Uncle Sam.
* Normally, we refer to someone by his or her last name on second mention in an article. “Steven Morrissey” first, then just “Morrissey.” Cardi B is an interesting exception, since calling her “B” wouldn’t make much sense, nor would using her given name (Belcalis Almanzar) since she never uses it. (I had to check with the editor on this, incidentally.) As for “Uncle Sam”? Who knows.