Is The Middle Class Really Carrying The Tax Burden? A Contrarian View On "No Shared Sacrifice"

Tyler Durden's picture

There has been much discussion lately about whether the US middle class is being unfairly penalized and carrying the burden of a tax regime that benefits the uber-wealthy. While that may certainly be the case on some statistical basis, especially if a literal handful of people account for the bulk of the income, thus skewing the median and the mean representation (a topic extensively analyzed in Nassim Taleb's Black Swan), below we present two charts that come straight from the IRS which show that talk of "no shared sacrifice" is largely unfounded. The first chart looks at the effective tax rate by income cohort; the second, and far more dramatic hockeystick chart, demonstrates the number of people paying no income tax. The results are, to say the least, quite surprising.

First, effective tax rate by income bucket:

Second, and even more surprising, the percentage of filers paying no income tax.

Charts courtesy of John Poehling

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NotApplicable's picture

Still though, it serves the purposes of divide and conquer well.

Clueless Economist's picture

Did anyone catch Becky Quick's aggressive questioning of Warren Buffett on CNBS between the girl in her pajamas studying for a MBA and Bill Schaefer made a financial gain with his invention commercials?

Her pointed queries had the old SOB sputtering and hacking evasive denials.  My favorite was Becky's probing request to know how Warren feels about investing so successfully during the financial meltdown.  Priceless!

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I saw that interview as well. And after a few moments of confusion that Becky would actually ask Uncle Warren questions and then follow up with more I realised that it's that time of the year again for Becky.

Becky conducts one interview a year with Uncle Warren where she asks sharp questions to rebuild her "credibility", then lays off the old senile coot for the rest of the fiscal year. Remember, Uncle Warren's 'year' runs from July 1 to June 30th.......just like any other self respecting corporation. :>) 

Max Fischer's picture

George Bush is widely considered a president who catered to the American plutocrats. Under the George Bush tax cuts, the upper income earners were taxed at 35%. After 10 years of these cuts, this Reagan-esque trickle down ideology as been proven to be a total failure. 

If the tax cuts were to expire, and Obama didn't renew them, the tax rate would increase to 39%.   

According to American right wing idiots and fear mongers, this 4% is the difference between capitalism and socialism, and proves that Obama is the incarnation of Hitler, Marx and all the famous villains in history. 


-Max Fischer, Civis Mundi


Bob Sacamano's picture

You're right. For a decade we have only heard how wrong headed the Bush tax cuts were - pure give away to the evil rich. Accordingly, ALL of the Bush tax cuts should be let to expire.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

by Max Fischer on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 12:54 #1433028

George Bush is widely considered a president who catered to the American plutocrats. Under the George Bush tax cuts, the upper income earners were taxed at 35%. After 10 years of these cuts, this Reagan-esque trickle down ideology as been proven to be a total failure. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

HOW do you figure that Max?

Sheer Madness, Max (no pun intended)


The question is:  How much should each group (percentile of taxpayers) pay in taxes?


(The following is source from IRS web site and 2008 is the latest year for their published data. After all, they are a government entity.)

Total income tax share (percentage): year; 2008


-- % taxpayers --   -- Pays ----------------

   Top 0.1 ........... 18.47   percent of all Fed Income Tax  
   Top 1 .............. 38.02   percent of all Fed Income Tax  
   Top 5 .............. 58.72   percent of all Fed Income Tax
   Top 10 ............ 69.94   percent of all Fed Income Tax
   Top 25 ............ 86.34   percent of all Fed Income Tax
   Top 50 ............ 97.30   percent of all Fed Income Tax

-  - - -  - - -  - - -  - - -  - - -  - - -

Just what SHOULD this distribution look like Max?




goldenrod's picture

Top 5% have a disproportionately high share of the income.  Naturally they pay a larger share of the income taxes.  Also, let us look at the total tax burden; not just the federal income taxes.  When you factor in the highly regressive SS and Medicare tax, state income taxes and sales and property taxes the picture looks different.  The low income people are taxed at a much higher rate than the high income people.



Bob Sacamano's picture

No. Federal income taxes fund general govt spending.  FICA taxes were established to fund specific benefits (Soc Sec & Medicare) for the relatively equal benefit of ALL citizens (understanding the class warfare movement to make them "means tested" - code word for welfare for the elderly -- more dependency agenda business).

Those who make 20% of the total income pay 37% of all federal income taxes.  Those who make 47% of total income pay ZERO federal income taxes. Do not see clear rationale on why that gap should be wider.

Wash DC has no power over state taxes -- suggest you change your state legislature if you do not like your state taxes or move to another state. Some states punish success less than others.  


blunderdog's picture

FICA taxes were established to fund specific benefits (Soc Sec & Medicare) for the relatively equal benefit of ALL citizens

Yeah, but they're not USED that way.  FICA taxes have been treated as general revenue for decades and used for (among other things) wars and income tax cuts.

Federal income taxes fund general govt spending.

With such an assertion, you're pushing a total falsehood.  Spin's annoying, but outright lying actually *contradicts* the argument you're trying to make.

Max Fischer's picture

The top 1% make ~25% of all income in the United States.

~80% of all income increases since 1980 have gone to the top 1% in America. 

These inequities in American income rival banana republics like Guyana. 

So if the rich pay a disproportionate amount of taxes compared to the poor and down-trodden, WTF do you expect?

- Max Fischer, Civis Mundi


mraptor's picture

The taxes should be as small as possible for everybody, even the rich ones... the problem is not with the tax cuts, the problem is with the spending !! Spending others people money on other people is the problem.

Any person can better decide how to spend his money than the gov., simple common sense...

eisley79's picture

my lord, Americans pay no tax.  If the US just straight adopted the Canadian tax system, you would instantly have like a 10 Trillion dollar budget surplus lol.


But those brackets are pretty wide.  The people that get the most hammered in any Western tax system are the upper middle class.  Rich enough to hit the high tax brackets, not rich enough to use tricks to pay no taxes. 


The ueber rich do not pay anything close to those tax rates at the end of it all.  Go for a flat tax, 15% tax period(well in Canada, US one looks like it would only need to be around 7-8% LOL), no write offs, IRS, or tax rules.  Set the minimum to be taxed at the poverty line, and everyone is paying the same thing.  Total tax revenue would go up, and equality would be reached, while lowering the taxes for the vast majority of tax payers.


That's if you are going to have an income tax, which, is another debate altogether.  My last comment on that, Companys should be paying for the right to sell to a countries consumers, and imports for the right to import into it.  People should not have to pay for the right to earn money, nor pay for the right to buy something.....

Joe Davola's picture

Think of all the poor lobbyists and tax preparation firms you would put out of business!

Sgt.Sausage's picture

==> my lord, Americans pay no tax

That is, but an illusion, and what they'd like you to think. The rest of us Americans have a word for it: Bullshit!

What you are looking at are Federal Income Tax rates - extrapolated to "Effective" tax rates.

In addition to the Federal Income Tax (mine's at 33%, marginal), we have both the Social Security and Medicare taxes. I'm self-employed, so I pay both the employer and the employee's share. A total of just north of 15% of income below $105,000 (ish). In addition to that, I pay my State's department of taxation 7.5% (marginal) and my municipality an additional 2.3%.  On top of that there's the FUTA tax (Federal unemployment) and SUTA (State unemployment).


That's *before* we get into the County/School-district taxes, which are based on property/real-estate values, but for me they equate to an additional 4.3% ( depends on year and property values) of my annual income.

Add to that a sales tax of 7.5% in my area on everything you buy except food.

Throw in $0.54 - 54 cents on every gallon of gas "Road Tax".

Add $3 bucks a pack for every pack of cigarettes "Sin Tax" - part of that goes to my State, part to the Federal Govt.

Everything else is taxed to hell and back too. FCC (Federal Communications Commission) taxes on my phone, cable, and internet bills. PUC (Public Utilities Commission) taxes on my electric, water,  and heat/gas bills). FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) taxes on airline flights. Local, County, and State "Inn Taxes" on every night in a hotel. It goes on, and on, and on.

Then, if by some extraodinary diligence and luck, you manage to hold on to anything you have left - if you invest it and it <gasp> makes any money, then that is also taxed at anywhere from 15% (qualified long-term cap gains tax) all the way up to your marginal income tax rate (in my case, 33%).  

You are not seeing the complete picture with the above charts.

Even those filers who pay "no tax" as described above - in this context that means they pay "no INCOME tax". They pay a metric ass-load of the above taxes just living day-to-day.


Tell me again that we Americans pay no tax. Last year I paid $62,500 in taxes across all of the above. This year, because my income is down (hazards of being self-employed) I will pay just under $40,000 in the above taxes.


==> Rich enough to hit the high tax brackets, not rich enough to use tricks to pay no taxes.


Story of my life.

JR's picture


This, Sgt.Sausage, is the true story of America’s welfare state – the transfer of money from the producers to the non-producers.  Thanks for taking the time to provide these sad details. Government statistics lie when they engage the sins of omission. 

luhar's picture

Sgt Sausage did note that even the poor are taxed up the ass, read his entire post.  the "non-producers" you refer to are people who work at the lowest levels in our society, the folks that help you pick out clothes at the department store and ring it up, the folks at the fast food joints, cab drivers, bus drivers, beer vendors at ballparks etc.  To refer to them as non-producers is kind of idiotic, they are an essential part of the system.  Without them, the wealthy would have to do a lot on their own, imagine what a drag that would be!

Also, has anyone considered that the reason the % increase of folks that are paying no Fed income tax is because there are way more folks now than ever before that fall below the bottom tax bracket because they dont get paid shit???

JR's picture

Why would one assume that the term "non-producers" refers to people who are working, earning and paying their way?

There is such a thing in a welfare state as a huge population of persons not earning and working and paying their way.  Example:

According to Illegal Immigration Statistics: 51% of Mexican immigrant households use at least one major welfare program; 28% use more than one.

According to Dr. Gianni DeVincent Hayes, writing in 2005, 31% of Mexican housewives are on welfare, costing nearly $70 billion in social services for them, and over 42% of all Mexicans here – nearly half – are on assistance.

According to Dr. Madeleine Cosman, free medical care to illegals between 1993 and 2003 closed 60 hospitals in California due to more than 50% of unpaid services, and another 24 California hospitals closed in 2004… Anchor babies born to illegal aliens instantly qualify as citizens for welfare benefits and have caused enormous rises in Medicaid costs and stipends under Supplemental Security Income and Disability Income.

A study released by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates that illegal immigration now costs federal and local taxpayers $113 billion a year, with the lion’s share of the cost paid by the states. The report, The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on U.S. Taxpayers, is the most comprehensive analysis of how much the estimated 13 million illegal aliens and their U.S.-born children cost federal, state and local governments…

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Well... If the Mexican house wife raises her kids properly, and looks after her husband, who is working in the fields for 10+ hours in harvest season I don't think that is unproductive.  Any way, the problem here is not just of generalizations.  It is also a problem of who is to blame. 

I think this is a classic case of Divide and Conquer, to be honest.  There are any number of ways the problems could have been mediated, proper immigration controls, proper exportation procedures, free medical care certainly could have changed, so that you get the care, and a trip back to Mexico.   But no.  It was in the interests of certain groups to fracture the American populace, and immigration esp. rampant uncontrolled immigration from one specific region is an age-old way of doing so.

luhar's picture

Sorry, been away for a week.  Okay, thanks for clarifying non-producers.  So my arguement back to you would then be, what are all these illegals doing here anyway?  Why do they come here and who the fuck is hiring them and paying them in cash (so we collect no tax rev from them) and not providing them healthcare (so we pick up that tab also) .  I nor any of my middle class friends hire illegals, so who does?  I think you are on to something. 

Not only do the uber-wealthy encourage these illegals to come here by offering them jobs, they drop them on us to pick up the tab on all other services! 

Simple solution:  Hiring illegals should be classified as treason as you have conspired against your country.  Minimum penalty for treason is 5 years, 10k fine; maximum penalty is (of course) death.

eisley79's picture

no doubt there are lots of taxes in America, you are still missing the point

whatever you pay at the end of it all, Canada pays Double, and Europe pays triple.  US taxes are impressively low across the board, income, sales, gas, 'sin', you name it

Cthonic's picture

Don't forget the progressive pseudo-taxes: "parents too rich for student aid" tax, out of state tuition tax, you don't qualify for free school meals tax, concealed carry tax to exercise your 2nd amendment right to bear arms, annual tax to operate (own) motor vehicles, and of course the ultimate insult to the thrifty yet duly departed, the estate tax.

blueRidgeBoy's picture

nice work, SGT.  Story of my life, too.  The Marxists that infest ZH will surely claim that it's only fair that producers pay so much, and that the rest pay so little (or not at all).  But the IRS data (and our own experiences) clearly show that the federal tax system has become more progressive, not less, over the past 10 years.  It galls me that almost half of all Americans pay nothing for the support and maintenance of their federal government.

pan-the-ist's picture

SGT just got through showing that we have a flat tax on everything except income, and you think taxes are getting progressive?  You choose to buy an expensive car, you choose to buy an expensive house, you choose to buy the ipad2, you can choose not to consume.  Seems you have the freedom to pay less in taxes by consuming less.

Janice's picture

Here's the problem that I have with that.  If we allow a flat tax, national sales tax, or VAT tax, will the politicians do away with the income tax, tax on communications, gas tax, and others?  Hell no, it will just be one more tax to pay on top of all the rest.

Janice's picture

Here's the problem that I have with that.  If we allow a flat tax, national sales tax, or VAT tax, will the politicians do away with the income tax, tax on communications, gas tax, and others?  Hell no, it will just be one more tax to pay on top of all the rest.

JR's picture

I'm absolutely in your corner, blueRidgeBoy.

The bottom 40 percent in America, on average, now make a profit from the federal income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment…

Obama's Making Work Pay credit provides as much as $800 to couples and $400 to individuals. The Earned Income Tax Credit provides up to $5,657 to low-income families with at least three children.  All they have to do is file an income tax form even though they had no income.

According to, “What makes it so effective is that the EITC is fully refundable; if a tax filer's EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, he/she gets a full refund of any remaining amount, even if the worker’s tax liability is zero.


blunderdog's picture

The EITC only goes to people who are employed, though.  These are folks who work and don't make enough money to survive on, so the government DOESN'T keep so much of their income as not to force them into homelessness and/or starvation.

Aren't you in favor of reducing government's taxation?  There seems to be a contradiction here.

Ricky Bobby's picture

I am with you too brother. Game over when more then half of the population lives off the state. 100% wouldn't be a high enough rate for the looters I know.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

You are blaming the wrong people.  You are talking about people gaming the system, when in truth, the system bought them off in return for their support of big government.

It was a good deal for both sides.  For everyone else?  Not so much!

Rome had free bread at the Games, you know.  I am sure they charged admission if you wanted to sit in the good seats, but I am just as sure that thousands were let in, and many of them were there for the bread as much as the entertainment!  Bread and circuses!

Now we have Food Stamps and American Idol/Monday Night Football!

Sean7k's picture

Yep and the unemployment rate did what from 2007 to 2009? Matching the increase in those not paying income tax? For the love of God, where is the analysis?

Janice's picture

Ditto.  What the Bush tax cuts saved me in income tax, the property tax increases took.  We are going to continue to be nickeled and dimed to death. 

maximin thrax's picture

The graph is of effective tax rates, which is the actual percentage of their adjusted gross income paid in income tax. Would 15% off the top collect more than the effective tax rates on AGI?

MachoMan's picture

I cringed every time he trotted out the "america had 120% debt:gdp way back when"...  "we're nowhere near that!"

Or the ol' blame it on republicans, "we raised the debt ceiling 7 times during bush's administration"...  "how can the republican's now get religion?"

I wonder if she helped him change his depends during commercials...

pupton's picture

Yeah, well after 4 terms of FDR what did he think would happen?  Buffet makes it sound like our fiscal situaiton is no big deal.  This time is way different than the FDR depression.  There will be no "peace dividend" returned on this "120%".  No industrial base built.  No advances in technology.  No Bretton Woods/Dollar hedgmony.  No infrastructure, no baby boom...nothing.  We have received no benefit for this debt other than to provide the parasite class with largess, temporarily.   

It amazes me that WB can be as rich as he is and still be such a fukkin retard.

Rodent Freikorps's picture

Perhaps he is just a fuckin liar.

pupton's picture

Did anyone catch Warren Buffet offer up Berkshire Hathaway money to float the governments debt while the idiots in DC fiddle?  He said they would be more than happy to prepay their taxes, and he would make a few phone calls and that they'd have the government bailed out.  LMFAO!!!  Stupid old bastid...

1100-TACTICAL-12's picture

consumption tax, let hookers, pimps, drug dealers, illegals, etc pay their fucking share...

Widowmaker's picture

I agree, legalize and tax.


Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Indeed, let the high quality hookers, drug dealers to the rich and famous, the bankers (also known as the thieves), CEOs, and politicians start paying their share.

But in truth, for America to even get close to a balanced budget the entire DEFENCE/Empire budget will have to be cut.  I find it shocking how cuts to the Defence budget cannot even be imagined, it is unpatriotic.

Well, guess what, the Military is notorious for misspending, and right now they are misspending money that has been borrowed by the US gov't, and will be paid back by the people (or not).  The people who think they are actually getting their money's worth with the defence budget, or that America couldn't protect its borders for less, you crack me up!

1911A1's picture

Because even if the entire defense budget was eliminated, the current federal deficit would still be at 15%.  This also fails to address the more serious problem of mandatory government spending (social security, medicare, medicade) increasing at a faster rate than GDP.  Mathematically this is unsustanable regardless of what you do to the rest of the federal budget.

Rodent Freikorps's picture

Not really. The Congress critters who have defense contractors in their district are the ones who cause the fraud in the MIC.

Congress tells the military what to spend, and how much.

pan-the-ist's picture

Riiiight.  Without the congress, there would be no MIC.  You really do live in an upside down world dude.  Reality has passed you by.

faustian bargain's picture

Corruption is a two way street. Without a military (and a government that needs to expand its power both foreign and domestic), yes indeed there is no MIC.

Just where does our 'innocent' Congress stand when it comes to "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none."

Silver Dreamer's picture

No tax. Let the government get back into the fucking box it was meant to be kept in...  This is as simple as losing weight.  Cut spending.  Period.

MassDecep's picture

The biggest Drug dealer is your Government. Listen to testimonies of Soldiers guarding the poppy fields in Afghanistan. Your Gov. also sells weapons to the Mexican drug cartel, then claims "we the sheeple" are doing it. War on Drugs.....More like trillions of dollars a year revenue for this crap called our gov.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

No effin way!  We are in Afghanistan for poppies?  Really?  Because when I did the research in 2001 I found out that the Taleban had banned the planting and harvesting of poppy fields, which up until then had been the source of roughly, oh 90% of the world's opium/poppy production.

Oh yeah, now i remember, the Taleban isn't running Afghanistan, ever since that order coincidentally, and American soldiers refuse to cut down the poppy fields, even though it is the most likely source of potential terrorist revenues!

blunderdog's picture

The Taliban are our ALLIES!

Oh, wait...sorry...that was a few years ago.  Nevermind.  Hard to keep track these days.

AnAnonymous's picture

At last, some sanity on this blog.

It wont bury the insane hard earned tax money mantra propagated on this site but at least , it is provided.

US middle class is the King class in the US, operating at the expense of the poor class (that they loathe) and at the expense of the rich class (that they envy)

This is the US middle class, thinking that they fund the government...

Everything in the US is tailored to satisfy the middle class.

The US is not the solution, the US is the problem.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

WTF???  I don't know what middle class means to you, but uhh... Have you checked out the stats on income disparity, or CEO pay, in the last 30 years? 

No one is funding the government right now, they are monetizing the debt.  And it will be defaulted on, so don't worry too much about it.

Probably worry about all the people who have depended on the government, and expect 20+ years more of benefits from them.  Those people are going to be real angry, esp. returning soldiers, who have been promised pensions, jobs, education, health care!   OMG!  Those people are going to lose their freaking minds!  And they have weapons training!  So thats what I would be more worried about.