Conservative pundits and media outlets have seized upon an estimate that 47% of taxpayers owe no federal income tax for 2009. This statistic has morphed into the claim by conservatives that “47% of all Americans don’t pay any taxes.”
The conservative pundits are Wrong. It’s true that many taxpayers don’t pay federal income taxes, but they still pay federal payroll taxes (and some federal excise taxes) and also pay state and local taxes. Most of these other taxes are regressive, meaning they take a larger share of a poor or middle-class family’s income than they take from a rich family. This largely offsets the progressivity of the federal income tax.
CTJ estimates that the share of total taxes (federal state and local taxes) paid by taxpayers in each income group is quite similar to the share of total income received by each income group in 2009.
For example, the share of total taxes paid by the richest one percent (22.1%) is not dramatically different from the share of total income received by this group (20.4%).
Everyone in America pays some sort of taxes, which may take the form of income, sales or property taxes imposed by state and local governments, in addition to federal income, payroll and excise taxes.
Claims that the richest 1% are paying far more than their fair share usually focus only on the most significant progressive tax, the federal income tax. They ignore the other types of taxes. As these figures make clear, the U.S. tax system just barely qualifies as progressive.