America’s Top 400

The IRS annually produces a report that shows the tax rate for the 400 families with the highest household income and compares it to the tax rates for the other tens of millions of households.  The Clinton administration was the first to publicize the report, the Bush administration stopped the practice (surprise!) and the Obama administration has once again started to publicize them.  So what do you think happened?

The incomes of the top 400 American households soared to a new record high in dollars and as a share of all income in 2007, while the income tax rates they paid fell to a record low, newly disclosed tax data show. 

In 2007 the top 400 taxpayers had an average income of $344.8 million, up 31 percent from their average $263.3 million income in 2006, according to figures in a report that the IRS posted to its Web site without announcement that were discovered February 16. (For the report, see Tax Analysts Doc 2010-3372 .)…

Payroll taxes did not add a significant burden to the top 400, not changing the rounding of rates by even one decimal. With payroll taxes taken into account, the effective tax rate of the top 400 would be 17.2 percent in 2006 and 16.6 percent in 2007, my analysis shows — the same as not counting payroll taxes. As a point of comparison, about two-thirds of Americans pay more in Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes than in federal income taxes…

Most of the income going to the top 400 tax returns is from capital. Salaries and wages accounted for only 6.5 percent of the top 400's income in 2007, down from 7.4 percent in 2006 and 26.2 percent in 1992. The average salary rose from 2006 to 2007, however, just at a slower rate than overall income growth. 

The biggest source of income was capital gains, which are taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent. Gains accounted for 66.3 percent of 2007 income for the top 400, up from 62.8 percent in 2006 and 36.1 percent in 1992…

The report shows that the number of the top 400 who paid an effective tax rate of 0 percent to 10 percent declined slightly, to 25 in 2007 from 31 in 2006. In 1992 only 6 of the top 400 paid an effective income tax rate of less than 10 percent. 

Another 127 paid 10 percent to 15 percent in 2007, up from 113 in 2006. 

 Only 33 of the top 400 paid an effective tax rate of 30 percent to 35 percent, which is the maximum federal tax rate.  

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