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  • Chart of the Week: Top 1 Percent Paid 38 Percent of Federal Income Taxes

    President Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday to outline his idea of fairness. To put it simply, that means redistributing wealth by raising taxes on the most successful Americans.

    “If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes,” Obama declared. He added: “Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”

    Heritage’s Curtis Dubay challenged Obama’s characterization of the so-called “Buffett Rule.” Dubay said it was a fallacy.

    “The President can claim success on this one even before he ends his speech tonight because the Buffett Rule is already soundly in place,” Dubay wrote in response to Obama’s speech. “According to the CBO, the top 1% of income earners pay 30 percent of their income in all federal taxes.”

    This week’s chart reveals the top 10 percent of income earners paid 70 percent of all federal income taxes in 2008, while the bottom 50 percent paid only 3 percent. Remarkably, 49 percent of U.S. households paid no federal income tax at all.

    Posted in Ongoing Priorities, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    65 Responses to Chart of the Week: Top 1 Percent Paid 38 Percent of Federal Income Taxes

    1. Obviously the Democrats want the 1% to pay "their fair share" meaning 100% of the tax load? There comes a point in time, capital will take flight, as it did from Europe in the 1970's 80's and 90s due to high taxes. It is happening now, to an extent, and will only speed up the pace if this foolishness the dems preach, continues

      • Arlene says:

        Where does it show the range of income however earned in the top 10%. I have seen it before am my memory tells me the majority of the top 10% may not be too much over $200,000.

      • Matt says:

        But the top 10% control 84% of the wealth. The rich skew their own incomes and derive the bulk of income from capital gains allowing them to pay a paltry percentage. Mark Zuckerberg;s salary, 1 buck a year. facebook consumed endless billions in capital and create only 3,000 jobs. This is not a workable system. Our income distribution rivals that of Mexico.

    2. Laurie Davis says:

      This simply cannot be true…..HE went to Harvard for God's sake.

    3. cosmoscon says:

      This is a great chart but I'd like to see what 2009 looks like since that is the most recent IRS data released. In that data, the top 0.5% of filers accounted for 29.8% of all income tax revenue and the table is posted below:

      Using that 2009 data, there is also a nice graph I put together showing how untrue the 'fair share' argument is. You can see the % of AGI is higher than % of tax revenue for those making less than $200k and then the lines switch (% of tax revenue is higher than % of AGI) for those making over $200k.

      • paul says:

        dennis he is paying more. he is paying 700,000 and you are paying a measley 70,000.

      • Dale says:

        Dennis, would it be fair for a millionaire to have to pay $100,000 for a Buick(for example) when someone making $50,000 only has to pay $30,000 for the exact same car? Imagine if you won a million dollar lotto, you wont be taking home a million. You just became a millionaire and now you're paying the top rate,36% I think, not to mention state taxes. I think a better question is why is it okay for higher earners to pay higher taxes?

    4. Dennis Beck says:

      Ok, serious question here. I understand that top income earners are paying a lot of income taxes. However, don't they have more to spend even after they pay those higher taxes? I mean, if I pay 70% of $1,000,000, then I still have $300,000 leftover, correct? But if another person pays 30% of $100,000, they only have $70,000 left. So why is it wrong for higher income earners to pay higher taxes?

      Thanks for answering my question!


      • Mike says:

        What if those earning a million choose to not work as hard and downsize their home. All of a sudden, tax revenue goes down, their personal spending which employees people in business across the spectrum goes down and your tax bill will go up.

        • KellyV says:

          And what if those earning a million work even harder to earn more, since the IRS is taking a larger chunk? The argument that higher taxes will make people suddenly decide it's no longer worth working to earn that money is preposterous. Businesses exist to make as much profit as possible, right? They'll continue to do so no matter what the tax rate is, as history has clearly demonstrated.

          Dennis, you're thinking about it in the right way. There's also the simple fact that the poor, bedraggled, downtrodden top 1% own 37% of the nation's wealth, and "earned" 66% of income gains between 2002 and 2007, with their incomes increasing at a rate 10x that of the bottom 90%. Facts. There's also the fact that once you factor in taxes and fees other than federal income tax–payroll, sales and excise taxes, for example–the bottom 50% actually pay a far greater portion of their income to the tax man.

          Yes, we do have a progressive taxation system. But not as progressive as it used to be, not by a long shot, and not nearly as progressive as it ought to be.

          • mike says:

            That's a load of crap. Just pay your fare share and mind your own business. It's the government that's the problem. They spend to much money, and it isn't even theirs. Do you think that's going to stop if they get more. It will just get worse……as history has clearly demonstrated. You are both wrong. Government taking more money is never the answer. Move to another country that already practices Socialism, if you don't like Capitalism.

          • Ekim Gnilas says:

            Granted…However we also have a government spending money at a rate that is not sustainable. The additional taxes proposed will not even put a dent in the deficit. I would be willing to pay more if we could get some assurance that the spending problem our country has is addressed.

          • Ginger says:

            Someone forgot the tell you that life is NOT FAIR!!! one gets out what one puts in…your envy of those who have success is just the symptom of something very, very wrong. sounds like someone likes being told what to think, not how to think..guess that is not "politically correct" but correct nonetheless.

          • Jon in CT says:

            KellyV, That is a gross over simplification and a complete misunderstanding of how people behave in the aggregate. First, Capital is what drives business growth – PRIVATE capital – not the government. Second, Government does not invest, it only spends. It only spends the money it either takes from the private sector or prints itself with no material wealth backing it up. If it takes it from the private sector, that sector has no money to place at risk to grow their business, this is further compounded because costs to invest go up if they now need to borrow money to make an investment. This increases the need to realize a greater return (hence more risk) to cover the costs of borrowing the money that the government taxed away from them. This causes less growth and less jobs being created.

      • Suzie Solyndra says:

        Because, Karl, er, Dennis, what you are postulating is a simple moral relativism that people who manage to earn more money don't "need" it, or, impliedly, deserve it. Your bias is evident in the example you give, where you set up the straw man that surely $300k should be "enough" for anyone, and $70k is what "should" be leftover from a $100,000 income. This is all wonderful for progressives, because there is no "wrong" in confiscation. There are a handful of flat tax believers, but on the whole no one is challenging a skewed collection toward those who "can" pay. Your whole question is ridiculous because no one is saying that it is "wrong", just that the "fairness" propaganda is just that, complete pablum for the ignorant..

      • Mike says:

        Try this on for size. They earned that money just like anyone. Why should anyone be punished for making more than anyone else. I bet you would like yours lowered. Ever hear of Atlas Shrug?

      • libtard_in_tx says:

        Wow, dufus, you misread it. They pay 70% of all taxes, NOT pay a 70% tax rate. Thats why the system is broken. Due to loopholes, write offs, and losses/depreciation on say (property, investments,etc) that average worker does not have, a $1,000,000 income person will pay probably 15-25% real tax rate. The vanishing middle class, pays the same rate on an income of $75-100K. Hmmm same rate as a millionare, yet we struggle. Thats the code lawmakers set up, since, they are in fact wealthy..Fair huh? Please, just vote for Obama again and get it overwith..

      • Jonathan says:

        Ok if you had 1 Million and you were taxed 30% and had 700,000 you are more than likely going to INVEST that money in a business or us it to higher people to do work for you on a larger scale than someone making 100,000 yearly. Someone to maintain an estate will be paid alot more than a high school kid mowing an elderly lady's yard. Not to mention the money they will invest in the economy that will help create innovation and more job opportunities. Think of it this way too. Every dollar earned will make if back to the government at some point. The more money taken from the citizens off the top prevent that money from changing hands from the get go. I loose 30% between all the taxes I pay SSI FIT etc. So I have 70% then I get hit with a 10% sales tax on everything I buy. So 60% is all I have left. So if I spend $300 at a local store for food and home related items they have to pay a tax on the items they restock, plus property taxes, etc. The less the government taxes the more times that dollar can change hands before going back to the government. The more times that dollar changes hands the more things we citizens can get done.

      • Sue says:

        Higher income earners do pay higher taxes, always have, always will. As this chart indicate, the highest earners are crucial to the revenues that our government needs to function. Increasing the percentage so drastically as in your example will take away the incentive by individuals to grow businesses and earn more. At some point the net income becomes to small for workers and our economy stalls. We need to look at government getting their spending under control, not more ways for individuals to give the hard earned $'s to the government,

    5. Candace Edmonds says:

      Your chart is very interesting and enlightening, at that! I am wondering though…where would Bloomberg and men/companies like his show up on this graph? Would it be put AFTER the 26-50% group with a percent underneith of them showing 2%? I am a conservative, but I have been hearing alot about how there are some extrememly wealthy companies who don't pay any income tax. I think, if you want to be righteous, you cannot leave them out of this chart. This is the discussion right now, and your chart does not reflect this particular group that is stirring such controversy. Why leave them out?

      • Goengo says:

        Companies are made up by PEOPLE, from the CEO to the janitor. Regardless of what the company pays in taxes, every individual employed by that company pays taxes on their income.

        That said, I do NOT think it is right that some companies (GE is a perfect example) pay no taxes. I also believe that it is not right for working people to pay NO taxes. Everyone needs to pay income taxes, even if it is only $1. per year!

    6. Scott says:

      That pretty much proves too great a gap in wealth. Especially since we know people like Mitt Romney pay a tax rate of about 15%.

      • Stirling says:

        Scott, the IRS has different tiers of income types. Please note that investment income has already been taxed once before it was invested. Therefore someone like Romney or Warren Buffet by the time they get their investment dividend income it has been taxed twice. (first at the payroll rate – say 35%, and secondly at the 15% which you speak of.) thus someone like Romney has been taxed 50% (effective rate) thru the process of earning & investing his money. Warren Buffetts secretary's taxable income has only been taxed once by comparision. This is what the media will not tell you because it breaks their arguement that the rich don't pay enough.

        • Cosi says:

          you're wasting your keystrokes. Obamabots could care less about private investment or capital gains or double taxation of dividends or repatriation of foreign subsidiary earnings or in fact how the revenue code works at all. They are fixated on "1%" and "Buffett's secretary" and "hope and change" and all the other empty twaddle. To them, it is quite simple. Elect a conservative, and the gravy train will stop.

      • Mike says:

        Romney pays 35%, and then another 15% on top of that on his dividends from investments. That adds up to 50% the way I learned math.

        • JDiamond says:

          Actually, the way I learned math is that if you tax a percentage from a given amount, that amount decreases, and then if you tax it again, you're taking away a percentage from a smaller amount, so it actually does NOT add up to 50%. Even if you're talking about two different amounts from different sources, you can't just add them together and think he really pays 50% taxes on his total earnings for a year.

          Also, it's silly to try to track how many times a given amount has been taxed. Imagine marking a dollar bill with a red check once it has been taxed, and then never taxing that dollar again until it changes hands. Taxes on dividends, inheritances, and other unearned income are designed to support the middle class by preventing the majority of the wealth from staying in the hands of the wealthy few. Unfortunately, there are so many loopholes it doesn't work very well, as evidenced by today's shrinking middle class and extent to which the majority of America's wealth has ended up under the control of a tiny percentage of citizens.

          • Beaten says:

            Assuming your logic JDiamond, with all the dollar bills the Fed's been printing…we should ALL be RICH soon! Woohoo! I'm off to go quit my job!

      • Bay Area Ed says:

        Scott – if you don't like the policy write Congress – the lower rate has been in place to attract capital and to provide an incentive. It has been preferentially taxed for many, many years. Funny I did not hear the press complain about that Senator from the northeast who inherited his $700 million from his wife who ran for President in 2004 and how he was taxed? Humm. Long term capital gains are taxed at 15%, losses only deductible against gains. Dividends treated like LTCG.

      • paul says:

        Mitt Romney paid 35% on his principle income when he initially made his money. the 15% he pays now is on the interest income from investing the money he already paid tax on. so his principle is 300,000,00 (already taxed at 35% in the years he made it). he invest that and makes 20,000,000/years and pays 15% on the investment income which by the way is the same 15% that someone who has an income of 10,000/year would pay on their interest income.

      • Wisenheimer says:

        Try not to prove that you are an idiot. Mitt Romney is retired and he pays 15% as capital gains not on earned income. Warren Buffett pays 15% as capital gains and I noticed that you didn't mention him. Warren is actively working and chooses not to recieve a salary so he can avoid paying federal income taxes. Wise UP.

    7. Jeff, Illinois says:

      Top 1 % own more than 40% of the entire wealth of the nation .. !!!! I think it's important to keep that in perspective, instead of the constant distortion that everyone else is a free-loading parasite.

      • Goengo says:

        Jeff, I would make one correction to your post:

        Instead of saying that the "Top 1% own more than 40% of the entire wealth of the nation.." I would say that the top 1% EARNED more than 40% of the entire wealth of the nation."

        This denigration of people who earn a lot of money is very disturbing to me. Remember that the wealthy keep people employed. They may own a business that hires people. Or, they spend their money, which keeps the retailers and manufacturers in business. We should celebrate the fact that in America (and ONLY in America), ANYONE can achieve the American dream.

        • Jeff, Illinois says:

          I have little doubt that you believe you really nailed that assessment. It's not the American dream that so much wealth would be in the hands of so few. Common sense dictates that that level of inequality is not sustainable for our national economic health, thus ultimately such a trend will ensure our decline as an exceptional nation. This article tries to suggest that the taxes paid in real dollars is more than a fair share for the 1%er's. That view is a problem, not that wealth itself is. But of course repubs. have little ability to see things other than black or white. Wake up . . very very . .very few will ever see the wealth being reported on in this article!!!! The rest will live respectable lives in the middle or working class, and they should never ever be viewed as less hardworking in general. What you espouse is a kingdom not a democracy!

          • Freelyn says:

            Since when has giving wealth to the Government done anything to raise up the people at the bottom. If anything, it makes Government bigger and creates even more dependents at the bottom. The system in this Country distributes wealth far more freely than other systems do and Government is going to do nothing but guarantee that those in Government are perpetually wealthy and powerful.

            I'd rather see it in the hands of Warren Buffet, Mitt Romney, Bill Gates and all those who earned their millions than in the hands of Democrats who then pick and choose who should win and loose depending on who can give them more power.

            The working class are always used as useful idiots of the Communist/Socialist's. Who would use them and class warfare to destroy the very system that makes the majority of people in this Country extremely wealthy when compared to the standard of living of just about any other nation.

      • Beaten says:

        What’s that got to do with…anything, Jeff?
        Who’s CREATES additional wealth? You? Why not? What are you helping by complaining about someone else’s wealth? What will that help you? Do we have the same amount of wealth as we did in 1776 … and all them darned rich guys just stole most of it!?! Get off your duff, let them have what’s theirs, and CREATE something that’s YOURS. That’s what America’s about and what made us exceptional: Yeah, some can get ridiculously rich…and you can too!
        But this pathetic, “Waaa, waa, I’m not rich and someone else is”, we’ve been trying it your way…more and more and more…the last hundred years or so, and that is why we’re declining as an exceptional nation. But, hey, keep complaining maybe that’ll get us somewhere.

      • Dave says:

        And the top 1%, who all make more than $350,000 a year, make about ~17% of the income and pay 37% of the tax.

        Total wealth has already been taxed. Total income is what is relevant here.

        Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/who-pays-taxes-201

    8. Vuk Vukovic says:

      nice graph! The tax system is clearly progressive in the US: http://im-an-economist.blogspot.com/2012/01/perce
      One needs to take the entire tax burden into consideration, as you have. Then you get a much clear picture

      And besides, the entire inequality and top 1% debate is unfortunately biased towards the argument of the liberals, making it hard to tell the truth of the actual situation. And the facts behind the top income earners state that they deserved their money by hard work and creating value for the economy. http://im-an-economist.blogspot.com/2012/01/perce

    9. Rick says:

      Can this be broken down with what "level of income earners" equate to in dollars?
      Thank you

    10. Rick says:

      Can this be broken down with what "level of income earners" equate to in dollars?

    11. Cliff E. says:

      For those of us who work in the private sector, which if memory serves is something like 70% of all Americans, we should be supportive of any measures that would reduce the size and scope of high corporate (C) and personal (Sub-S) rates, as well as the hidden costs of burdensome regulations (Sarbannes-Oxley; Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, EPA, NLRB, etc.), that restrict a company's ability to expand its workforce creating more prosperity and a larger taxbase for the country. Under the current system 53% pull a wagon hauling 47%. This is unsustainable. To appreciate the liberty of personal responsibility nearly all must have skin in the game at some point unless they are truly incapacitated.

    12. Lloyd Scallan says:

      Well Obama got one point right. We do call it "class warfare" because that's exactly what it is and he knows it.

    13. Ron Wise says:

      I don't think anyone is opposed to eliminating the subsidies and loopholes that allow companies like GE to pay nothing in taxes. Eliminate all deductions and impose a flat tax on all individuals and corporations alike. I am not a bean counter but I doubt it would be difficult to determine what current % of business profit and personal income needs to be taxed to maintain the current level of revenue to the government. The billions saved by not having to pay someone to file ones taxes would be unleashed on the economy. And of course along with tax reform the government desperately needs to cut spending!

      • KellyV says:

        "I don't think anyone is opposed to eliminating the subsidies and loopholes that allow companies like GE to pay nothing in taxes."

        You may be right if you're talking about citizens like you and me, but the companies in question most vehemently oppose such motions, and since SCOTUS says corporations are now people with unlimited ability to use their money as First Amendment protected speech to buy our politicians and political system, you can bet they'll go for the best pols money can buy, on both sides of the illusory aisle.

        Look into the Saving American Democracy constitutional amendment proposed by Rep. Deutch and Sen. Sanders. It's a step in the right direction.

    14. Red Baker says:

      The US income tax code is the most "progressive" in the world already, the most "fair". Increasing taxes on investment returns will result in less investment, fewer jobs. This is socialism.

    15. Stirling says:

      Thank you top 1%'ers for your support of this country.. Unfortunately this administration does not apreciate you as an "asset" but more as a never ending ATM which they can tax you…

    16. steve h says:

      Can you detail what % of income the top 1% made? If the top 1% made 38% of all income, then it seems fair. If they made more than 38% of all income (which i can only imagine they did), then they shodul have paid the proporrtionate share…and vice versa – if they made less than 38% of all income, then they should have paid less (but you know that is not the case).

      • ScottyZ says:

        Are you kidding me? You say that like we all have a right to a share of "all income" this propostrous notion that we are all in a "group" of like-income earners is clouding you're judgement. You also fail to mention that the people with higher earnings spend more money on a daily basis because we all like nice things, I.e. cars, houses, furniture, electronics, etc. which puts money back into the economy as well. Every single person in this country has the ability to work harder for a better life, whether it is a new job, better education or being an entrepreneur. And don't give me the "hard for the poor" crap, I am poor, work two jobs and go to night school but I have great plans for my future and the last thing I want is to pay someone else's bills when I get there. It's like looking at a muscle magazine for men, we all know the hard work involved to get big and strong but it's just "too hard". when you make it feasible to live in this country on govt help without lifting a finger, NO ONE will want to would. Who could blame them? Plenty of my friends and neighbors ask me all the time why I work so hard busting my ass while they watch tv all day with a govt/state paycheck, my answer is simple… This is America, I'm pursuing happiness, and it's down this road. Enjoy the free Cheetos!

      • Shannon Hickman says:

        To tether a citizen's percentage of his income tax burden to that person's share of income earned is a bit simplistic. That strain of thinking is more aligned with "other" historical notions than with American ideals. Along with one vote per citizen should go one flat tax rate for all in a free society.

      • paul says:

        being a veteran, i beleave every citizen of the US has equal responsibility and duty to provide for the running of this nation. the fair and reasonable thing to do is tax everyone at say 10% on their total international gross income with no deductions, no tax shelters, no way to exempt any income. if you make if you make 100 you pay 10 and if you make 10 billion, you pay 1 billion. it should be the responsibility of the company to collect the tax from the employee. no paperwork to file. no need for a large irs. that will cut a hugh portion of government spending. excess will be applied to next years budget and percent adjusted accodingly.

      • RickD says:

        Steve, I am a conservative accountant and I agree with your comment, I think other folks are misreading your question. The percentage of total tax paid (not tax rate) should be releative to the % of total income made/reported. If you check the links from the post up above to the table of IRS data you will see that the top 0.5% of income tax files earned 13.9% of total adjusted gross income reported and paid 29.8% of total income tax in 2008. The IRS data does not break out the top 1% specifically, but the trend here is quite clear, the top 1% are paying nearly double their relative share of income taxes compared to their poertion of income reported. I also checked the data from 2009 and it is the same story. They also pay the highest effective tax rate (taxes actual paid / adjusted income) of any group.

    17. Bobbie says:

      KellyV says: "The argument that higher taxes will make people suddenly decide it's no longer worth working to earn that money is preposterous." ?? you must be tax exempt eh, traitor? what kind of people besides those not obligated to pay taxes, would support any part of personal earnings taken? EVER? Your simple fact is simply misleading. the taxes and fees as "factors" aren't paid at a greater proportion because you're poor? Self reliance – if you can't afford it you do without it. Rich people can buy more often and more of paying more taxes you fail to consider. With limited government and less it's cost, poor people would rise from the term…

    18. David G says:

      In order to pay the % of taxes she is paying, Buffet's secretary is making more than $200K. and she is included in the group that Obama thinks is not paying enough taxes.

    19. Observer says:

      This administration wants the top half to support the bottom half such that any person elected to president will serve at least two terms because at least 50+% of the electorate will be getting a handout. And here all along I thought that buying votes was illegal. Stupid me.

    20. Wayne, La. says:

      There is a lack of information in this report. It doesn't state what income brackets are included in the analysis. There is a problem with the tax structure that would allow any individual or corporation to avoid paying taxes. The first proposition is to simplify the tax code. A second suggestion is to treat the individual family as a small corporation. This would allow the tax structure to be designed around one entity. A dependent could be considered an "employee". So whatever benefit there is on claiming a dependent/employee would stretch to all groups. It won't be easy to design a simplified fair tax system but like anything good it takes work. This is something that the current administration does not do well.

      • paul says:

        tax on the corporation is the price they pay for the privilage of being a separate entity and the legal protections they enjoy that are not extended to other individuals. if they want to do away with the corporate tax then they should do away with all the legal protections the owners enjoy such as but not limited to personal liability.

    21. Keith Sutyak says:

      Three truisms of taxes:
      1. Government will always finds ways to abuse and waste tax payer money.
      2. People who are 'enabled" by getting freebies from our taxes will always seek to abuse the system.
      3. The return on investment that we get from our tax dollars is directly proportionate to the efficiency of the government – need I say more?

    22. Nancy in NC says:

      Try explaining this to a liberal. They will argue until the cows come home, because it's just not "fair". Well, life isn't always fair, so what? I visited England several times in the late 1990's, and very few work that much. Socialism has effectively killed the work ethic and creativity. After all, after a certain point anything extra you earn just goes to taxes. We are on the way to that point here as employers often can't compete with the government and the "free" handouts. People will eventually tire of working their butts off, while some just sit on theirs.

    23. tom says:

      No one on this blog has mentioned the fact that many people make money doing side jobs and never report his earning to the government. Some of these individuals select to except subsistence from local or from federal coffers and have nothing in the game. I believe that everyone living in this country legally or illegally should file an income tax form reporting all incomes including monies from the tax payers. If you make nothing you put a big zero on the form and explain how you exist on nothing. This would put greater pressure on those who are willfully defrauding this country.

    24. JollyD says:

      This will make the innumerate really mad!!!

    25. Dave says:

      I am a member of Heritage.org. I am having an arguement with an ardent liberal re: tax revenues and who pays them. I stated that almost 50% of income earners pay no Fed Taxes. They don't believe the chart I found above. Where can I find this information on a government web site?

    26. Jerry says:

      Until you understand that the government is, in effect, our "hired hand", depending on the tax payer for their "paycheck" you will never get it. IT IS NOT THEIR MONEY!!!!!!!!!!!! Be nice to the 1% or they might just decide to leave.

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