Who Pays Taxes (And How Much)?

***Originally posted on 7/22/08***

It’s that time again! The analysis of the 2006 tax year is in, so I wanted to share the results with you. The Wall Street Journal posted an outstanding article detailing who pays the taxes in this country, and how much of them. This is one of my favorite myths to bust every year, so let’s get to it!

Their Fair Share

Washington is teeing up “the rich” for a big tax hike next year, as a way to make them “pay their fair share.” Well, the latest IRS data have arrived on who paid what share of income taxes in 2006, and it’s going to be hard for the rich to pay any more than they already do. The data show that the 2003 Bush tax cuts caused what may be the biggest increase in tax payments by the rich in American history.

[Their Fair Share]

The nearby chart shows that the top 1% of taxpayers, those who earn above $388,806, paid 40% of all income taxes in 2006, the highest share in at least 40 years. The top 10% in income, those earning more than $108,904, paid 71%. Barack Obama says he’s going to cut taxes for those at the bottom, but that’s also going to be a challenge because Americans with an income below the median paid a record low 2.9% of all income taxes, while the top 50% paid 97.1%. Perhaps he thinks half the country should pay all the taxes to support the other half.

Aha, we are told: The rich paid more taxes because they made a greater share of the money. That is true. The top 1% earned 22% of all reported income. But they also paid a share of taxes not far from double their share of income. In other words, the tax code is already steeply progressive.

We also know from income mobility data that a very large percentage in the top 1% are “new rich,” not inheritors of fortunes. There is rapid turnover in the ranks of the highest income earners, so much so that people who started in the top 1% of income in the 1980s and 1990s suffered the largest declines in earnings of any income group over the subsequent decade, according to Treasury Department studies of actual tax returns. It’s hard to stay king of the hill in America for long.

The most amazing part of this story is the leap in the number of Americans who declared adjusted gross income of more than $1 million from 2003 to 2006. The ranks of U.S. millionaires nearly doubled to 354,000 from 181,000 in a mere three years after the tax cuts.

This is precisely what supply-siders predicted would happen with lower tax rates on capital gains, dividends and income. The economy and earnings would grow faster, which they did; investors would declare more capital gains and companies would pay out more dividends, which they did; the rich would invest less in tax shelters at lower tax rates, so their tax payments would rise, which did happen.

The idea that this has been a giveaway to the rich is a figment of the left’s imagination. Taxes paid by millionaire households more than doubled to $274 billion in 2006 from $136 billion in 2003. No President has ever plied more money from the rich than George W. Bush did with his 2003 tax cuts. These tax payments from the rich explain the very rapid reduction in the budget deficit to 1.9% of GDP in 2006 from 3.5% in 2003.

This year, thanks to the credit mess and slower growth, taxes paid by the rich may fall and the deficit will rise. (The nonstimulating tax rebates will also hurt the deficit.) Mr. Obama proposes to close this deficit by raising tax rates on the rich to their highest levels since the late 1970s. The very groups like the Congressional Budget Office and Tax Policy Center that wrongly predicted that the 2003 investment tax cuts would cost about $1 trillion in lost revenue are now saying that repealing those tax cuts would gain similar amounts. We’ll wager it’d gain a lot less.

If Mr. Obama does succeed in raising tax rates on the rich, we’d also wager that the rich share of tax payments would fall. The last time tax rates were as high as the Senator wants them — the Carter years — the rich paid only 19% of all income taxes, half of the 40% share they pay today. Why? Because they either worked less, earned less, or they found ways to shelter income from taxes so it was never reported to the IRS as income.

The way to soak the rich is with low tax rates, and last week’s IRS data provide more powerful validation of that proposition.

And what’s the big question that needs to be answered next? That’s right – if the rich aren’t paying those taxes, who is?

The middle class.

Did you see those numbers in the chart? The ‘rich’ earn 22% of the total income in this country, but pay 40% of the taxes! The top 5% earn 37% of the total income, but pay a whopping 60% of all taxes! The top 50% (earning more than about $48,000 a year) pay 97% of all taxes! What is the one group that earns far more than its relative tax burden? The poor, with earnings of 12% of the total income, but less than 3% of the total tax burden.

Tax cuts never benefit the ‘poor’ because they simply don’t pay much to begin with. And, similarly, tax cuts always benefit the rich the most because they pay by far the most to begin with.

Don’t forget, too, that the Bush tax cuts propelled a huge number of people from the middle class into the ‘rich’ category.

This is nothing new, though. The ‘rich’ have been paying more and more of the tax burden in this country for years. Take a look:


So, when people whine about the rich not paying their ‘fair share’ of taxes, point them to this data. It’s a total myth, a fabrication used by politicians (especially on the Left) to apply class warfare for their own benefit.

There’s my two cents.

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I'm a gun-owning, Bible-thumping, bitter clinger conservative in the heartland. You can disagree with me if you want (you do, after all, have a right to be wrong)...just don't be rude or stupid and we'll get along just fine! :)

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