Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Federal Income Taxes On Middle-Income Families at Historically Low Levels

/PRNewswire/ -- The following release by Chuck Marr and Gillian Brunet was released today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Middle-income Americans are now paying federal taxes at or near historically low levels, according to the latest available data. That's true whether it comes to their federal income taxes or their total federal taxes.

-- Income taxes: A family of four in the exact middle of the income
spectrum will pay only 4.6 percent of its income in federal income
taxes this year, according to a new analysis by the Urban
Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. This is the
second-lowest percentage in the past 50 years.
-- Overall federal taxes: Middle-income households are paying overall
federal taxes -- which include income as well as payroll and excise
taxes -- at or near their lowest levels in decades, according to the
latest data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Federal Income Taxes Have Declined Significantly in Recent Decades

Federal income taxes on middle-income families have declined significantly in recent decades.

In 2000, the year before the 2001 tax cut that President Bush and Congress enacted, the median-income family of four paid 8.0 percent of its income in individual income taxes, according to Tax Policy Center estimates -- a smaller share than in any year since 1967 (except for 1998 and 1999).(1) The Bush tax cuts further reduced middle-income tax obligations.

This year, the Making Work Pay tax credit, which President Obama and Congress enacted as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is providing a credit of $800 to married joint filers ($400 to single filers). A median-income family with two children thus will receive an $800 tax cut in the return it files this year.

With the new tax cut, the median family's federal income taxes will equal just 4.6 percent of its income in 2009. That is lower than in any year since 1955 (the first year for which these data are available) except for 2008, when another stimulus-related tax cut was in effect.

The 4.6 percent effective tax rate -- the percentage of its income that a family pays in taxes -- is well below the 15 percent marginal tax rate that a family of four in the exact middle of the income spectrum faces. Typically, such a family reduces its effective tax rate by taking the standard deduction (or, in some cases, itemized deductions), personal exemptions, and tax credits such as the child tax credit. The Making Work Pay tax credit further reduces that family's effective tax rate.

Overall Federal Taxes Also at Low Levels

The decline in income taxes on middle-class households in recent years has driven a decline in these households' overall federal taxes.

Households in the middle fifth of the income spectrum paid an average of 14.2 percent of their income in overall federal taxes in 2006, the latest year for which data are available, according to CBO.(2) This is just slightly above this group's effective tax rate of 13.8 percent in 2003, which was the lowest level since at least 1979.

Most Americans pay more in payroll taxes, which support Social Security and Medicare, than they do in income taxes. Thus, the 14.2 percent figure reflects the impact of payroll taxes far more than income taxes.

Due to the impact of the recession and the temporary tax cuts in the Recovery Act, particularly the Making Work Pay tax credit, CBO data for 2009 (when they become available) will likely show that middle-income families faced significantly lower effective overall federal tax rates than in 2006.

This analysis, and other reports that provide a greater understanding of trends in taxation, are posted to:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization and policy institute that conducts research and analysis on a range of government policies and programs. It is supported primarily by foundation grants.


(1) Tax Policy Center, "Historical Federal Income Tax Rates for a Family of Four," April 12, 2010. The Tax Policy Center's estimates were derived by updating (using Treasury's methodology) a 1998 Treasury Department analysis that examined changes since 1955 in the percentage of income that the median-income family of four pays in federal income taxes.

(2) The CBO study covers the 1979-2006 period and includes federal income, payroll, and excise taxes. Congressional Budget Office, "Historical Effective Federal Tax Rates, 1979-2006," April 2009.

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