Myth 1: The wealthy aren’t paying their fair share.
Fact 1: The wealthy disproportionately fund the United States federal government.
As you can see, the top earning 1 percent of Americans (or 1.4 million returns making more than $380,000) paid 38 percent of federal personal income taxes. However, they made only 20 percent of income. The top 5 percent of income earners pay almost 60 percent of income taxes and make almost 35 percent of all personal income. The Americans at the lower half of the income spectrum (or 70 million returns) paid 2.7 percent of the total. This chart also shows that roughly half of taxpayers pay for almost all of the federal personal income taxes.
It means that the income tax in America is extremely progressive.
This week, E.J. Dionne's Washington Post column quoted writer David Cay Johnston: "The effective rate for the top 400 taxpayers has gone from 30 cents on the dollar in 1993 to 22 cents at the end of the Clinton years to 16.6 cents under Bush. So their effective rate has gone down more than 40 percent.”
In fact, the top 400 aren't a static group. There's lots of income mobility in and out of the "top 400" every year, and most of their income is due to highly fluctuating capital gains (which is taxed lower than ordinary income). IRS data for the top 400 over a 15-year period show that 72 percent of them appeared only once. A little more than 12 percent appeared twice and a little over 15 percent appear three times or more. Trying to fine tune tax policy to attack the "top 400" will only tax different people tomorrow than are there today.
Myth 2: Top earners in the United States are millionaires.
Fact 2: Only 2% of the top 10% of earners are millionaires.
When Americans think of the top earners in the United States, they often overstate the earnings of those with the highest reported earnings. The top 10 percent of United States tax returns report $114,000 in earnings, the top 5 percent of households report $169,000 in earnings, and the top 1 percent report $380,000.
Furthermore, these earnings should be taken in their geographic context. This chart shows what a worker would need to earn in each of 5 different cities in order to maintain the same standard of living as a person living in DC making $250,000.
As we can see, it takes roughly $170K in Kansas or Georgia to have the standard of living of someone making a $250,000 in Washington DC. However, to have that standard of living in New York, you need almost $400,000.