The Richest 1 Percent of Americans Pay 24 Percent of Federal Taxes

November 14, 2014

The Congressional Budget Office released its annual study of the distribution of income and federal taxes. It tells us what we’ve long known: The rich pay a lot of federal taxes, much more than the middle class and the poor.

President Obama for many years pushed his infamous Buffett Rule, which said that the highest-earning Americans should pay at least 30 percent of their income in federal taxes. According to CBO, the average tax rate of the top 1 percent was 29 percent in 2011 (the last year of data in the report). The Buffett Rule, therefore, was largely in effect.

However, CBO also projected forward to 2013. Based on tax increases that began in 2013, CBO predicts the top 1 percent paid a 33 percent effective rate in federal taxes last year. Obama’s policies have more than established the Buffett Rule.

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Part of that rule, according to the president, was to make sure the rich pay a higher effective rate than the middle class. The CBO report shows the middle class paid an effective rate of 11.2 percent in 2011. The rich paid almost three times the effective rate comparably. Warren Buffett never paid even close to a lower rate than his secretary.

CBO also shows that higher income earners paid larger shares of tax. The top 1 percent, for instance, earned almost 15 percent of income and paid 24 percent of federal taxes. The top 20 percent earned 51.9 percent of income and paid 69 percent of taxes.

The CBO report shows the middle class paid an effective rate of 11.2 percent in 2011. The rich paid almost three times the effective rate comparably.

All other income groups paid a smaller share of tax than they earned in income. The middle class earned 14 percent of income and paid 9 percent of taxes. The bottom 20 percent earned 5.3 percent and paid less than 1 percent of taxes.

The share of tax and the average tax rate of the bottom 20 percent both increased in 2011 compared to 2010. However, their taxes did not rise. Rather, they received less money back through their income taxes because of refundable tax credits, likely because of the economy’s improvement.

The result of a highly progressive tax structure and income redistribution programs run through the tax code and outside it means that income inequality fell when looking at before and after-tax incomes. The top 20 percent saw their share of income fall from 52 percent before tax to 48 percent after. Every other income group’s after-tax share was greater than its before-tax share.

One of President Obama’s goals was to increase the tax burden on the rich. He succeeded in raising their already substantial burden. Those hikes are one reason the economy continues to stagnate well below its potential because they have stifled investment by reducing incentives to take risk.

 

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