Buried inside a Congressional Budget Office report this week was this nugget: when it comes to individual income taxes, the top 40 percent of wage earners in America pay 106 percent of the taxes. The bottom 40 percent...pay negative 9 percent.
You read that right. One group is paying more than 100 percent of individual income taxes, the other is paying less than zero.
It's right there in Table 3 on page 13 of the report. The numbers are based on 2010 IRS and Census Bureau figures.
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How does someone pay negative taxes? The CBO's formula offsets whatever taxes are paid with "refundable tax credits." Some of these are due to "government transfers" of money back to the taxpayer in the form of social security and food stamps.
That's not to say the rich are going broke. Hardly.
According to the CBO, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans saw before-tax income grow more than 16 percent from 2009 to 2010, which isn't such a surprise since the stock market was coming off the bottom. Most of the rest of the country only saw gross incomes grow about 1 percent. When it comes to federal taxes,the top bracket paid 69 percent of the total last year. The bottom bracket paid 0.4 percent.
"For most income groups, average federal tax rates in 2010 were near the lowest rates for the 1979-2010 period," reads the report. "The exception was households in the top 1 percent,whose average federal tax rate in 2010 was significantly above its low in the mid-1980s."
It does not look to be getting better. The CBO said that since 2010, new taxes have been added which will raise rates for everyone, with the biggest increase hitting the 1-percenters. They could end up with their highest federal tax rate since 1997 this year.
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However, the greatest disparity in the report is the one mentioned above, regarding the share of individual income taxes paid by various income groups.
First, let's look at incomes. The report shows the lowest-paid Americans earned on average $8,100 in 2010 but received nearly $25,000 in government aid. You begin to see how "transfers" create a negative tax burden.
But wait, there more. The CBO says about a quarter of the lowest earning group actually paid negative 15 percent of all individual income taxes. Contrast that with the combined share of the wealthiest two groups, which totals more than 100 percent.
Fair or not, I will let you be the judge.
People who make more should pay more, generally speaking. In America, they are. Yes, the rich (and almost rich) are getting richer. When it comes to individual income taxes, they're also covering the entire bill. And leaving a tip.