Image by Ken Teegardin via Flickr
“Almost half of all Americans pay no taxes!” That’s the claim bandied about in elections and overheated television talk-fests. It refers only to federal income taxes, from which various groups are exempt. But many other taxes are also collected at the federal, state, and local levels. When all kinds of taxes are added up, almost all Americans pay substantial amounts. In fact, poor and middle-income people frequently fork over higher shares of their incomes than the very rich.
Federal Income and Payroll Taxes
The U.S. federal government relies on two big taxes collected from large numbers of Americans: the federal income tax and payroll taxes regularly deducted from wages and salaries to cover Social Security and Medicare benefits. Income and payroll taxes each contribute about 40% of federal revenues. Almost half of U.S. households currently do not owe federal income taxes, but over three-fifths of these “non-filers” are workers who contribute very substantial payroll taxes. For example, Americans making the lowest incomes pay nearly 9% of their wages in payroll taxes, about the same percentage as middle-income workers pay.
Only about 17% of American households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, because they are headed by people in special sub-groups:
- Elderly men and women, who previously contributed payroll taxes during their working lives, living on their Social Security benefits.
- Students or disabled individuals.
- Workers unable to find jobs. During the recent recession, the numbers of long-term unemployed people not filing income tax returns went up.
- Active-duty members of the U.S. military, who do not have to pay taxes on their combat pay and do not owe income tax after having been deployed. (more…)
Occupy Wall Street has put a public face on the backlash against growing inequality. As most Americans struggle to make ends meet, income and wealth at the very top continue to burgeon, in bad times as well as good. Although rag-tag protesters have been vilified, protests against the widest economic disparities in more than a century resonate with the wider public. For some time, the best research has documented shared American worries about inequality and broad support for steps to enhance opportunity. (more…)
Not long ago, the U.S. Census Bureau delivered very bad news about poverty in the United States. In 2010, 15.1% of Americans had incomes below the poverty line—set at $22,113 for a family of four—and the poverty rate for 2011 will be even higher. For older people who remember that poverty fell to 11.1% back in 1973, it may seem puzzling that things have gotten so much worse. Rising poverty is not a recent development either. Things were getting worse well before the Great Recession of December 2007 through June 2009. Given the way the U.S. economy works in our era, sluggish growth, high levels of joblessness, and persistently high poverty are likely to persist for years—unless our political leaders change course and do more to help the poor and near-poor. (more…)
Enterprises generating wind and solar power are growing fast in Europe, Asia, and the United States. As countries seek to limit fossil fuel emissions that spur global warming, the search for cleaner energy sources is on. Thirty years ago, the wind and solar industries did not exist, but now they are coming into their own, actively nurtured by governments across the globe.
On a good site with convenient access to transmission lines, wind power is highly competitive with power generated from fossil fuels like coal and oil. Texas and Iowa alone have installed over 15,000 megawatts of wind-power generation, equal to the energy that can be generated by fifteen nuclear power plants. In the last couple of years, solar prices have dropped as much as fifty percent, reaching parity with other sources in parts of Europe and the United States. California will soon have solar power capacity equal to several large nuclear power plants. (more…)