Yesterday was Tax Day. In honor of the day that many Americans pony up to Uncle Sam more of their incomes because they haven’t given him enough all year long, we take a look at just who it is that pays the most each year. And one lesson is clear: the much-demonized high-income earners pay their fair share—and more.
The top-earning 1 percent of Americans will pay nearly half (45.7 percent) of the federal income taxes according to the Tax Policy Center. That’s up from 43 percent in 2013 and 40 percent in 2012. One percenters share of taxes is 2.7 times their income. Because of the way we collect taxes, it doesn’t pay to earn more.
The top 10 percent pays 53.3 percent of all federal taxes and when looking at federal income taxes, they pay 68 percent of the burden. That’s a lot of cheddar!
The bottom 80 percent of Americans will pay just 15 percent of all federal income taxes and the bottom 60 percent pay less than 2 percent of federal income taxes. That’s tens of millions of Americans who pay nothing to the federal government. Yet all of us get direct and indirect benefits from being citizens.
With 2016 presidential election season just around the corner, we’ll see one-percent bashing head up soon. President Obama and the Occupy Wall Street Movement effectively used messaging to paint an “us versus them” picture of income inequality.
The Heritage Foundation does a great job of breaking down the numbers:
It still shows the same story: Top earners pay a disproportionately large share of the federal tax burden.
The top 10 percent pays 53.3 percent of all federal taxes. When looking at just federal income taxes, they pay 68 percent of the burden.
The top 1 percent pays 24 percent of all federal taxes compared to 35 percent of all federal income taxes.
The data for total federal taxes come from the Congressional Budget Office. The data for federal income taxes come from the IRS. Heritage has not altered the data from either in any way, except to combine income categories in the Congressional Budget Office data.
The top 10 percent and top 1 percent pay smaller shares of the tax burden when looking at total federal taxes than federal income taxes because the payroll tax, which accounts for more than a third of all federal tax receipts, is more evenly distributed than the income tax. But the corporate tax tempers that effect because it falls mostly (75 percent according to Congressional Budget Office) on shareholders, most of whom earn higher incomes, although not all of them.
Should top earners pay more in taxes? The question to answer first is what the purpose of raising their taxes would be? If it’s simply to use the wealthy as an ATM machine to close budget shortfalls, then we have to realize that the resources of the wealthy are not inexhaustible.
As the Laffer Curve reminds us, beyond a certain level of taxation, tax revenue begins to decline. Raising tax rates penalizes people for engaging in income-generating activities. For high-income earners, those activities are already risky to begin with and when we tax away the reward for risk, we strip out the incentive to act entirely. They will not be motivated to create the next innovative business.
Our country is dependent on the earnings of the wealthy. Some 37 percent of total government revenue comes from the income tax, compared with 24 percent in other countries, with the largest share coming from the wealthy. If we continue to raise taxes on high income earners beyond the point of it being productive, we’re only hurting ourselves by discouraging those job producers and risk takers from creating value for society.