Tax Day Facts

No, Mitt Romney, 47 percent of Americans don't pay zero taxes.

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7 Charts That Put Tax Day In Perspective

It’s that time of year again. Now that your taxes have (hopefully) been filed, we won’t blame you if you want to go back to not thinking about them until this time again next year. But before you do, take a few minutes to learn some important facts about our tax system.

1. Here’s where your 2013 tax dollars will go:


Nearly two-thirds of Americans’ 2013 tax dollars go directly toward major government spending programs for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and national defense. Safety net programs account for 12 percent of spending. Education, which is mostly paid for through state and local taxes, accounts for just 1 percent of the federal budget.

2. Corporations and the wealthiest Americans are paying less taxes than previous decades.


Since the middle of the 20th century, the share of federal tax revenue from corporate taxes has fallen dramatically. Meanwhile, the share coming from the payroll tax (mostly Social Security and Medicare taxes) has increased dramatically. And now, the taxable estate of a deceased person must be more than 5.25 million dollars to even qualify for the estate tax.

3. Tax rates are among the lowest they have ever been.


Federal taxes are near historic lows for all but the top one percent of earners. But that isn’t stopping some media outlets from focusing on how the wealthiest are experiencing “sticker shock” this tax season.

4. Americans are paying a lot less in taxes than the rest of the developed world.

Including both federal and state government tax receipts, the United States takes less tax revenue as a share of its GDP than many other developed countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The United States ranks 31st overall.

5. Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” is wrong.


According to the Tax Policy Center, only 14.4 percent of people pay neither income taxes nor payroll taxes, and the large majority of those are elderly retirees. Just over four in ten Americans don’t pay federal income taxes because they either are retired or because their income is low enough to owe no taxes after credits and deductions are accounted for.

6. The wealthiest pay the most taxes because they earn the most.


Taking into account federal, state, and local taxes, the share of taxes paid largely reflect share of income. As income inequality continues to widen to historic levels, the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans has also risen. Which is to say: the fact that the richest one percent pays almost a quarter of all taxes doesn’t mean that taxes are too high, it means that the 1 percent are making a bigger and bigger share of all income.

7. State and local taxes disproportionately hurt low-income families.


As the chart above shows, while federal taxes are generally progressive, taxing higher earners a larger share of their income, state and local taxes hurt lower-income families more. The poorest 20 percent of families pay almost double the share of their income to state and local taxes as the richest one percent.

BOTTOM LINE: We need to have resources to get some really important things done — take care of our elderly, protect our borders, build our roads and bridges, and prepare our children for the future. In order to build an economy that works for everyone, we need to make sure that all Americans are contributing their fair share.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Advocacy Team