And Now for the Movie: Fewer Americans Pay No Federal Income Tax

By :: August 29th, 2013

The percentage of Americans who pay no federal income tax is falling, thanks to an improving economy and the expiration of temporary Great Recession-era tax cuts. In 2009, the Tax Policy Center estimated that 47 percent of households paid no federal income tax. This year, just 43 percent will avoid the tax.

TPC’s 2009 estimate went viral during the following tax season and then played a supporting role in last year’s presidential election. Many commentators misinterpreted the estimate as saying that nearly half of all households paid no tax at all when, in fact, nearly everyone pays something. Even if they don’t pay federal income tax, Americans almost all pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, state and local sales taxes, excise taxes, or some other levy.

This new TPC whiteboard video explains what’s really going on and why the number of people paying no federal income tax is falling.

The new TPC estimates project that the fraction of households with no federal income tax liability will continue to fall over the next decade. By 2024, only one-third will pay no income tax.

Of the 43 percent of households that will owe no federal income tax this year, nearly half will be off the rolls because their incomes are too low. The rest won’t pay because preferences wipe out the taxes they would otherwise owe. Many of those preferences, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, are social policy run through the tax code. If those provisions were considered spending rather than tax cuts, many more people would be counted among income tax payers. (Indeed, for budgetary purposes, much of the value of those tax credits is considered an outlay.)

Fully two-thirds of households that pay no federal income tax have workers that pay payroll taxes. Most American workers pay more in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes than income taxes. Just 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll tax and two-thirds of them are elderly.

Most of the rest are younger households with no workers and income under $20,000. They pay no income taxes because they have little or no income. The remaining 1 percent mostly benefit from the tax code’s many exclusions, deductions, exemptions, and credits that wipe out the income tax they would otherwise owe.

Even the 14 percent of households that pay neither income nor payroll tax do pay other taxes. Most of us bear some of the burden of the corporate income tax through reduced earnings in our retirement and investment accounts or somewhat lower wages. Anyone who buys gas, tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, or airplane tickets pays federal excise taxes. And it’s nearly impossible to avoid all state and local taxes—the income, sales, and property taxes that support state and local governments.

The notoriety of the 47 percent figure has come largely from a misunderstanding—or less charitably, a misrepresentation—of what that number actually means. Check out the video and learn the real story about why people pay no income tax and why the number of those who don’t is falling.

89Comments

  1. CR  ::  12:54 pm on August 29th, 2013:

    It is really important not to look at this just as a “household” issue but as an individual adult taxpayer issue (or if you look at as a “household” issue, to at least drill down to understand how the taxes fall on these “households”).

    Mitt Romney’s wife, for example, has never paid payroll or wage in come taxes because she’s never held a job in her entire life. She may have paid capital gains tax or dividend tax through stock she inherited. Presumably he takes control of that stock, even if she inherited it, and so she’s not really even the one paying that tax.

    Mitt Romney does, however, draw two sets of benefits in Social Security and Medicare, even though he pays only one set of taxes. He is therefore a “deficit-builder” and takes money from future generations.

    And that “safety net” has likely prevented the Romneys taking a closer look at what their children really needed from the parents in terms of family structure (i.e. avoiding psychological problems in the children’s development from paternal neglect, dependent on a female dependent).

  2. CR  ::  12:57 pm on August 29th, 2013:

    In other words, Ann Romney is one of the “47%” he denigrated, while not looking at his role in making her a nontaxpayer (and in shifting debt to his children, causing them psychological and other problems by not taking personal responsibility for the unpaid work of meeting the needs of these children he played a 50% role in bringing into the world).

  3. Leighton Ku  ::  3:29 pm on August 29th, 2013:

    Best report ever! I want to do my future reports illustrated by whiteboard! And the analyses were excellent too.

  4. Michael Bindner  ::  7:50 pm on August 29th, 2013:

    The amazing thing is that it was Republican Presidents who mostly enacted the exclusions that kept people from paying income tax. It is also largely Republicans who are proposing tax reforms, either the VAT or the FairTax or a VAT-like net business receipts tax to stop ALL people from having to file – or at least the bottom 80%, with the top 20% still paying some kind of surtax with one or more rates. Some of these proposals include shifting some or all of payroll taxes and retaining some form of prebate or credit to poor families – either to compensate them for paying the tax or in some cases (like mine) proposing a robust child tax credit as an offset to the Net Business Receipts Tax allowing the credit to be paid with wages. If the employer contribution to FICA, including OASI, were paid as part of the NBRT you could also have an offset for personal retirement accounts holding employer voting stock and give each employee an equal amount, decoupling it from wages. Non-elderly survivors insurance, disability insurance and hospital insurance would be paid through the NBRT and the benefits would be decoupled from wages – which will help many whose disability payments are way below subsistence. Ideally, the OASI tax would be entirely replaced by the employer tax, however if people wished to have a salary related payment the tax could be retained – albeit with a lower cap leading to lower payments and a floor so that poor people would no longer have to pay and then receive the EITC – depending entirely on the employer contribution for account accumulation. Transitional costs for personal accounts would be paid from the Social Security trust fund, which would be funded by the high income and inheritance surtax, which would also be earmarked for paying for foreign military costs, net interest and eventually debt repayment.

  5. Michael Bindner  ::  8:17 pm on August 29th, 2013:

    The degree to which income taxes are or are not paid is also the degree to which a portion of the national debt is owed. The historical factor between income taxes and the total debt is nine (both held by the government and by the public – because government held debt still must eventually be redeemed by income taxes). A few years ago the factor was 15. For ease of calculation, lets say it is now 10. Essentially, this means that the amount of debt an individual or family owes in any year is the income tax paid times ten. For example, if you paid $8000 in taxes you owe $80,000 of the debt. If you paid $10,000 you owe $100,000. If you paid $100,000, you owe $1,000,000.

  6. Landru  ::  10:25 am on August 30th, 2013:

    The IRS has the statistics for anyone to analyze. In 2009 the Make Work Pay Credit was in effect, expired in 2011, so that is the main driver of any change. In 2009, there were 93 million returns with AGI 50,000 or below, representing 66% of all returns and 22.5% of the accumulated AGI of all returns. If you factor in the EIC and Additional Child Credit, the ‘payments’ on the 1040, the net effect on the Treasury for all those returns was an outlay of 46 billion.

    85% of all income taxes collected (when factoring in the ‘payments’ resulting in a negative liability) came from the 12.5% of returns with AGI over 100,000. So again, regardless of how you want to spin it, you can’t fund the fed govt at the level certain people want like this. It’s that simple. A couple with 2 kids and AGI close to 50,000 shoud be paying something in fed income tax. They don’t. A single mother with 2 kids making 37,000/year (or more) is not poor. Maybe in Manhattan, but not anywhere else. Far from it. They also have no income tax liability and collect $1000 through the EIC. And stop the spinning and the nonsense about sales taxes. It’s a joke.

  7. Joe The Economist  ::  11:35 am on August 31st, 2013:

    You posted that the IRS has statistics. Do you have a source for those statistics from the IRS?

  8. More Will Pay Federal Income Tax This Year | Money Talks News  ::  4:06 pm on September 3rd, 2013:

    […] number of U.S. households that pay federal income taxes is rising, the Tax Policy Center says. The center credits a better economy and the expiration of some tax […]

  9. Are Some Americans Paying Federal Income Tax They Don’t Owe? | ParrottCPA Blog  ::  6:33 pm on September 3rd, 2013:

    […] that get far more attention—those American who pay no federal income tax. The other day, the Tax Policy Center estimated that about 43 percent of Americans will be off the federal income tax rolls in 2013, down from 47 […]

  10. More Will Pay Federal Income Tax This Year  ::  8:03 pm on September 3rd, 2013:

    […] number of U.S. households that pay federal income taxes is rising, the Tax Policy Center says. The center credits a better economy and the expiration of some tax […]

  11. More Will Pay Federal Income Tax This Year | Money Talks News – Taxes-Info.com  ::  10:23 am on September 4th, 2013:

    […] series of U.S. households that pay sovereign income taxes is rising, a Tax Policy Center says. The core credits a improved economy and a expiration of some taxation […]

  12. W63 TOP NEWS » Who Doesn't Pay Federal Taxes? A Peek at the Numbers  ::  7:18 am on September 6th, 2013:

    […] The number of people who pay both federal income tax and payroll tax increased from 53.1 percent in 2011 to 56.7 percent in 2012. This is likely due to an improving economy and the expiration of temporary recession tax cuts, according to the Tax Policy Center report. […]

  13. Weekly Round-Up: September 6, 2013 | Tax Credits for Working Families  ::  11:41 am on September 6th, 2013:

    […] ranging from incomes that are too low to seniors who live on non-taxable social security income. (Tax Policy Center 1, […]

  14. Are Some Americans Paying Federal Income Tax They Don't Owe? – Taxes-Info.com  ::  12:01 pm on September 6th, 2013:

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  15. Who Doesn’t Pay Federal Taxes? A Peek at the Numbers | How do you get a loan  ::  8:53 pm on September 6th, 2013:

    […] The number of people who pay both federal income tax and payroll tax increased from 53.1 percent in 2011 to 56.7 percent in 2012. This is likely due to an improving economy and the expiration of temporary recession tax cuts, according to the Tax Policy Center report. […]

  16. Another look at the 47% | Brobrubel's Blog  ::  8:50 am on September 7th, 2013:

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  18. More Americans Will Pay Federal Income Tax This Year | ComparePlastic  ::  12:20 am on September 8th, 2013:

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  20. Are Some Americans Paying Federal Income Tax They … – Taxes-Info.com  ::  11:33 am on September 9th, 2013:

    […] some-more attention—those American who compensate no sovereign income tax.  The other day, a Tax Policy Center estimated that about 43 percent of Americans will be off a sovereign income taxation rolls in 2013, down from […]

  21. 43% of Americans Pay No Income Tax | Infinity News Network  ::  2:17 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    […] share of households who aren’t paying any federal income tax has fallen, and a new analysis from the Tax Policy Center predicts that it will continue to shrink in years to […]

  22. Move Over ’47 Percent,’ It’s Now the ’43 Percent’: Fewer Paying No Income Tax | PolitiTalk  ::  2:40 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    […] share of households who aren’t paying any federal income tax has fallen, and a new analysis from the Tax Policy Center predicts that it will continue to shrink in years to […]

  23. a p garcia  ::  6:10 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Alternate headline: GE leads among Corp.

  24. Chris  ::  6:10 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    >> She may have paid capital gains tax or dividend tax through stock she inherited. Presumably he takes control of that stock, even if she inherited it, and so she’s not really even the one paying that tax.

    “He” cannot take control of a stock. It would have to be transferred to him from her. Whether she inherited it or not wouldn’t make any difference. But I assume you are pointing out that they file jointly and as far as you know she may only have unearned income.

    Also, it’s impossible to get “2 sets” of Medicare and Social Security benefits. I can’t fathom how you figure he gets “double” Medicare unless you’re implying fraud. But according to reports, Romney has not enrolled in Medicare/is keeping his private insurance (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/03/mitt-romney-not-enrolling-in-medicare-on-65th-birthday/).

    Re SS, payments are based on lifetime income from all sources. And since his income is so high (unearned or otherwise) his payout is likely reduced if he decides to take it – which he does not at this time.

    But I assume your comment was to bash Mitt Romney for his 47% remark. Fair enough, but your inane argument doesn’t make any sense.

  25. Jeff  ::  6:23 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    That just goes to show wages/ incomes are dropping so much.

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  26. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha  ::  6:39 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Depends on what constitutes an “American citizen these days. If that includes ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS then the numbers are skewed.

  27. Ribit  ::  6:42 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Everyone, other than seniors over 65, should pay something in federal income taxes. Otherwise, these people should not vote.

  28. gwsjr425  ::  6:55 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Actually it has to do with the LFPR being at 40 year lows as to why less are paying no FIT. There are less people working now than five years ago.

  29. Are you serious Bob?  ::  7:58 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    So, If I am retired and make no income (Websters: money received, esp. on a regular basis, for work: The amount of money or its equivalent received during a period of time in exchange for labor or services, from the sale of goods or property) However I sit on a substantial amount of cash…I should be paying an income tax?
    You need to be very careful what you wish for and HOW you wish for it. If you want EVERYONE under 65 but over 18 to pay an income tax, why not look at the fair tax? A flat tax. Then your wish would be equitably granted…Oh, for the ‘wealthy people’ haters out there, this would be evenly done for all. You would pay 10% on cars, foods etc. as would they.

  30. Are you serious Bob?  ::  8:03 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Pay close attention and beware of this spin here folks. over 50% are on the government dole via welfare of some sort, this does not include legitimately disabled, seniors or our honored military. They are living on taxed dollars, the numbers listed here are bunk by the sheer millions (90+) that are unemployed, have dropped off the ‘searching’ list etc.
    The funniest part is, the economy is not improving and is increasingly worse, the debt clock seems to have stopped counting and more and more and more are just giving up. It’s not that fewer pay, it’s that THE fewer that do pay are supporting the other 50%+…..

  31. Two Incredible Headlines | Quartermaster of the Barque  ::  8:15 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    […] The percentage of Americans who paid ZERO income tax FELL from 47% to 43%. […]

  32. John  ::  8:16 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Dang it Romney! you were off by 4 percent! Better fire that number cruncher!
    Gosh that guy was so right on the mark with his statement though… I wonder how well off this country would be if he had been put in office!

  33. uscsp  ::  8:25 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Taxation = Theft. Keep taxing the producers and soon there will be no one else to plunder from.

  34. Fisher  ::  8:31 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    How in the heck is a falling tax base really a sign of an improving economy? If anything, the internal dynamics of the economy are a wreck and getting worse. The fall in taxpayers (federal) is more likely due to the part time economy that Obama has created.

  35. Tax Policy Study Shows More Americans Paying Taxes  ::  9:00 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    […] to the article, the TPC analysis shows an improving economy and the expiration of temporary tax cuts as contributors to this change. […]

  36. M.T Bass  ::  9:06 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Half full or half empty? Only 57% left to liberate.

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  37. JWS  ::  9:43 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    I like how CBS ran this story and still tried to make Romney look crazy for the 47% figure he threw out.

  38. Paul  ::  9:59 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    This is a patently false story. Outrageous. Improving economy? The reason for the percentage going down is that they are not counting all the people that have left the workforce. You can’t have an kmproving economy when participation rates are the lowest in decades and of all jobs produced, 75% are part time.

  39. SCOTT  ::  10:45 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    The only reason 47% are not paying is because they are ethier unemployed or on welfare…..the J.O.B. market sucks

  40. Jimbake  ::  10:49 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Hmmm…Let’s see. The original intent of the income tax statute was to TAX Corporations and Franchises 2% of their profits in excess of $2000.00. Private individuals were never meant to pay an income tax. Said tax was to apply to the GE’s, Apples. UPS’s, Chases, CitiBanks and all the other Licensed and franchised entities and individuals such as doctors, lawyers, and anyone operating under government license. No Free man should ever pay nor was ever originally meant to pay “income taxes.” Unfortunately, the Karl Marx manifesto worked too well until all we sovereign citizens became slaves to the Federal government. ABOLISH the Income tax and the IRS today!!!

  41. EndThe Fed  ::  11:07 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    Actually, Taxation is stealing. 100% of Americans should be paying NO income tax!!

  42. Bob White  ::  11:22 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    There you go. If 43 owe no income tax, that will be the minimum amount of people you and I and other tax payers are about to insure. Everyone of these deadbeats is about to receive a voucher based on their income, so here we go, down the tubes. Remember, 43 % is certain, it will be more than that.

  43. Tax parasites shouldn’t be allowed to vote | The Ultramontane  ::  11:37 pm on September 9th, 2013:

    […] this point, 43% of Americans pay no income tax. Ideally, 100% of Americans would pay no income tax and the government would be shut […]

  44. Cletus O’Bannon  ::  1:26 am on September 10th, 2013:

    The economy is improving? Really? I want some of what they are smoking!

  45. Cletus O’Bannon  ::  1:28 am on September 10th, 2013:

    Meant to add that the number of people circumventing taxation by going into cash only business is increasing as well. I am aware of a lot of folks that are working for themselves and will now only take cash as payment. Can’t tax what you can’t track. The people are getting fed up with the government and it’s larceny. It’s a matter of time before a reset occurs. Too bad I am not young enough to join in.

  46. ernaldo  ::  6:28 am on September 10th, 2013:

    This isn’t news, we taxpayers knew this all along, half “Americans” don’t pay ANY share, much less their fair share. You media traitors run this idiotic story in an off election year for low impact. PIGS!

  47. Aponoybwaha  ::  6:33 am on September 10th, 2013:

    Infinately better

  48. Karl  ::  6:38 am on September 10th, 2013:

    I am certain that the number who pay nothing is much higher when you factor in all of the illegal aliens living here.

  49. Mommyofthreeboys  ::  7:05 am on September 10th, 2013:

    This makes me incredibly mad. I am a small business owner and pay more than my “fair share” of all kinds of taxes and about half of America doesn’t. It makes us paying the taxes think “why the hell should I if no one else does?” If we did not pay it THEY would not have welfare, food stamps, obamacare, obamaphones, WIC, police, firefighters, roads, bridges, education, etc. you need to put something in to get anything out! And then when I retire they will tell me I have too much money ( b/c apparently THE GOVTdid not tax me ENOUGH) and my Social Security will be MEANS TESTED! This beyond pisses me off!

  50. Mommyofthreeboys  ::  7:11 am on September 10th, 2013:

    If they spew something enough, regardless how false it is, the sheeple will believe it.

  51. Mommyofthreeboys  ::  7:15 am on September 10th, 2013:

    And those on disability who have no business being on it. Do you know parolees get to go on it if they cannot find employment even if they are NOT disabled. Yep. I have my sources on this one.

  52. Mommyofthreeboys  ::  7:24 am on September 10th, 2013:

    Yes and don’t be fooled by low income. Do you know they consider LOW INCOME a family of 5 making $51,000 a year. Your kids will get free lunch at school if you make that it under. That is not LOW INCOME people! Who the heck pays everyone’s FREE LUNCHES? The fools like me who actually PAYS TAXES!

  53. '47 Percent,' It's Now the '43 Percent': Fewer Paying No Income Tax – Taxes-Info.com  ::  10:35 am on September 10th, 2013:

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  54. crustyone  ::  10:39 am on September 10th, 2013:

    I believe I got screwed out of some money when my wife paid for her non-American citizen mooslum ex’s share of the income tax (when he drunkenly did himself in by stepping into traffic)of the income tax after we were married. At least he’s ashes returned to his homeland in a box and she is here with me.

  55. No matter who pays income taxes, the IRS needs to be downsized – Absolute Rights  ::  11:03 am on September 10th, 2013:

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  57. Now it's the 43 percent: Fewer paying no income tax – Taxes-Info.com  ::  10:43 am on September 11th, 2013:

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  68. CBO stuns! ‘Rich’ pay 106% of income taxes  ::  11:24 am on December 14th, 2013:

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  71. Are Some Americans Paying Federal Income Tax They Don’t Owe? | electronics-trade Products articles blog  ::  4:58 am on December 21st, 2013:

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