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TheStreet Open House

Top 1% Pay More in Federal Income Taxes than Bottom 90%

By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK (MainStreet) There's still a box of Christmas decorations at the bottom of the stairs waiting to be carried up to the attic and already the tax trauma has begun. It's like the Christmas creep to mid-October. The New Year's Eve champagne has barely lost its bubbles, and already it's tax season.

To put you in the mood to tackle your 1040, consider this fact: the top 1% of taxpayers pays more in federal income taxes than the bottom 90%. Since the early 1980s, the share of taxes paid by the bottom 90% has steadily declined, according to the Tax Foundation, the tax policy think tank.

A recent report by the non-partisan research group reveals that in 1980, the bottom 90% of taxpayers paid a little more than half (50.72%) of all income taxes. In 2011 (the most recent year the data are available), the bottom 90% paid just under a third (31.74%) of taxes. In contrast, the top 1% paid 19% of taxes in 1980 and now pays just over 35% of federal income taxes.

"An interesting piece of information is that after the [2003] Bush tax cuts, often claimed to be a tax cut for the rich, the tax burden of the top 1% actually increased significantly," the Tax Foundation says. "One reason for the decline in the bottom 90%'s tax share is likely the proliferation of tax credits. In the last 30 years, the number of tax credits has increased -- specifically refundable tax credits. The combined cost of refundable and standard tax credits has gone from around $20 billion in 1990 to $176 billion in 2010, with refundable credits accounting for about $100 billion of that growth."

The report says that relying on a small base of taxpayers to assume an increasing share of the national tax burden exposes a basis weakness of the tax code.

"Tax structures that rely on such a small base (specifically a small income tax base) are more susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy," the group claims. "The best solution would be to shift away from a tax code that punishes high-earners, savings, and investment and towards a tax code that collects revenue from a consumption base, which provides more stable revenue and mitigates the current code's bias against savings, investment, and, correspondingly, economic growth."

The Tax Foundation says the top 50% of income earners paid 97% of all taxes in 2011.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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