RE: Half Of Americans Don’t Pay Taxes.

This is a common claim used to rile up conservatives, the implication being that if you pay any taxes at all half of the country is somehow freeloading off of you.  The statistic is true…ish.

The reality is that 47% of households in 2009 didn’t pay federal income tax.  That sounds big, but lets break it down.

First of all, many of them still paid federal payroll taxes for social security, state and local taxes and all of them pay sales tax, so they’re not exempt from taxes so much as paying marginally less because of low income, unemployment, disability or retirement.

24.3%, (or 1/4th) of americans are under the age of 18.

12.8% are over 65, many retired or on retirement benefits which obviously are tax exempt.

In early 2008, when the economy was doing fairly well 13.2% of americans were below the poverty level.

In 2009 roughly 30% of the lowest earners were unemployed or under-employed (working part-time or not earning enough to make ends meet).

Add that up and it’s pretty impressive that 53% managed to make enough to even pay federal taxes.

My source for most of these stats btw was the US census.


About agnophilo

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39 Responses to RE: Half Of Americans Don’t Pay Taxes.

  1. A_Bella_Loca says:

    Thank you for posting this. I just had a huge fight with someone over this just the other day.

  2. tsh44 says:

    I pointed out pretty much the same thing to a friend recently but hadn’t seen the actual stats. Thanks for the info.

  3. misuriver says:

    Finally, a reasonably written response to this nonsense. It would seem like common sense to most people, but alas…

  4. asrial86 says:

    Canadian, but I hate when people are full of shit 🙂

  5. agnophilo says:

    @johnny_hopkins – : )@A___Beautiful___Disaster – Feel free to send them to my blog – if you haven’t already straightened them out, that is : )@tsh44 – No problem.@ElliottStrange – : )@misuriver – Well I mean the statistic out of context seems shocking, but it should occur to anyone that what they pay in taxes can’t possibly support half of the country.  But yeah, I know I just posted this but I’m surprised the response has been entirely positive so far.

  6. gene546 says:

    My wife and I pay close to two thousand dollars this year. She’s earning good money for both of us.

  7. bosefius says:

    Yay for the truth!!

  8. Dargon says:

    Thanks for these stats. I am curious, are you 100% certain that the 47% statistic includes all Americans, and not just American workers? Haven’t looked up that figure myself. If it does, seems when you take out the under 18s and the over 65s, seems that in that case just under 10% of the working age people don’t pay federal income. And it is definitely true that a lot of people that didn’t pay income tax this year payed a good bit of social security and the like. I was one of them.

  9. agnophilo says:

    @gene546 – That’s good.@bosefius – Always : )@Dargon – 47% of “households”.  Bearing in mind a little less than half of US households are a household of one.  So some households don’t pay taxes because they get credits for having kids and being low income etc.

  10. YouToMe says:

    interesting stats

  11. Dargon says:

    @agnophilo – Thanks for that clarification. I suppose a good portion of over 65s do count as households, and most those under 18s probably end up being a tax credit to their parent’s households. I’d be curious to see breakdowns of those households, but it does indeed make that 47% a lot less staggering. 

  12. agnophilo says:

    @YouTOme – Yup : )@Dargon – Yeah also the fact that the statistic also came from when the economy hit rock bottom and federal tax revenues were at their lowest in many years.

  13. nephyo says:

    The statistic of 47% is a household statistic so I’m not sure how relevant the 24.3% of Americans under the age of 18 is to that. But your other points are good. The main thing of course is that payroll tax which dwarfs income tax in low and middle class families. Jon Stewart covered this well and Ezra Klein added a nice graph that shows in pretty much every income group shares of total taxes paid are pretty close to their shares of total income. Link1Link2But this whole talking point I find confusing. Wasn’t the right wing always talking about how taxes are TOO high and we’re all being forced to pay too much!?!?!?  If HALF the country isn’t paying taxes, preferably the half that needs their money pretty badly, wouldn’t that be a triumph in right-wing ideology?

  14. musterion99 says:

    Do you have any statistics on the tax write-offs of rich people and big businesses?

  15. So much for “this information is confidential.”

  16. agnophilo says:

    @nephyo – The household thing is relevant because they get tax credits for each kid, and because the statistic is sometimes characterized as “half of americans don’t pay taxes”.@musterion99 – Not offhand, but I know exxon paid zero dollars in income tax to the US (but 15 billion in taxes to other governments), and apparently in 2006 they changed the law to create a federal IRS whistle-blower program where people can turn in high-end tax cheats for a share of the recovered cash:…the Whistleblower’s Office gets 30 to 40 tips a month about alleged noncompliance of at least $2 million, the office’s threshold. An additional 200 a month fall below that and are passed on to other IRS investigators…

  17. agnophilo says:

    @radicalramblings – The disclaimer (and federal laws protecting your info) say your personally identifiable information is confidential and will only be used for statistical purposes dipshit.

  18. gene546 says:

    @agnophilo – I have twins who still studying, and they depend in us for their expenses. Though they are 19 of age, are full time students, and we still paying taxes as if my wife and me were living alone. But I feel ok for both of us contribute the country economy (which it is not in good economical shape), according the federal law on taxes. By the way, I would to ask your opinion related to a very controversial issue, what are your thoughts about the new law in Arizona. And please, I beg you to be honest (I know you’re), is the law inside the parameters of the ethics of Political science?

  19. The_ATM says:

    The name TEA party does not quite fit the bill.  Taxes probably need to be what they are right now, but the government needs to stop spending so much.  Taxes are not really the problem.  Spending is what people need to be protesting.Here is an extremely good video talking about the debt problem.  The guy is full of information.  Speaking of all of the government’s liabilities he says, “There is no feasible combination of growth and taxes that can fund… those liabilities.”

  20. DessertHer says:

    When I was on medicaid I cringed everytime I heard someone say, “My tax dollars are paying for lazy people on gov assistance programs (like medicaid).” I had to remind them that I was paying for it just like everyone else. While being unmarried and a SAHM with no personal income was the only thing allowing me to qualify for medicaid at that time (I REALLY wish I still q’ed and would get on medicaid again in a heartbeat if I could) I was still financially supported by my husband (fiance for many years… thus the ability to qualify). His income was taxes 9 ways from sunday, we also pay property taxes and sales taxes just like all those people who complained about THEIR tax dollars paying for people who don’t contribe according to them. Gee, sorry I was poor enough to be able to put my tax dollars to some use for me a**holes. In the same token I guess I could yell at people who don’t own a house like I do and get to excape paying heafty property taxes. How inconsiderate of them not to buy a house and contribute like the rest of us *rolls eyes*Oh and we got $6500 back this year. Suck on that! If we’d bought a house in 09 rather than in 05 we would have gotten $14,500 back!

  21. I agree with most of these sentiments, but I still haven’t heard anyone give me a good reason for “tax brackets.”   Why tax me more because I make more?  Taxes should be a set percentage for everyone, regardless of income, race, social standing or whatever.   Don’t punish people for making more money, and don’t encourage them to stay on programs like Medicaid or using food stamps.  

  22. tau_1 says:

    Very good information my friend. Now if they just stop calling the President a commy.

  23. agnophilo says:

    @gene546 – I think enforcing immigration law is all well and good but this law enables the government to hassle people based on the color of their skin or whether they have an accent etc, which is no different than a cop pulling someone over just because they’re black.  I think it’s despicable.  I also think it will be abused by people calling the police to “report” people they don’t like just to hassle them.  And I also think the police have better things to do than hassle minorities all day.  And it basically turns arizona into a “papers please” state.  One of the nice things about america is that it’s not a police state, you can go wherever you want for whatever reason you want, there’s no customs going from county to county or state to state where you need permission to move around.There’s also an argument to be made that immigration reform is a national, not a state issue.@The_ATM – Intersting video, but also somewhat incomprehensible.  So far as spending it is a problem but dialing it back before the economy starts improving would just extend the recession.  Government spending in some ways is what’s propping up the economy at the moment.  That’s why in washington they’re talking about a cut in next year’s budget and the healthcare reforms are designed to lower medicare/medicaid spending which is a huge part of our deficit.  We need to get serious about cutting military spending though where we can, no more bullshit 20 and 30 billion dollar programs to build something that will never work.  Or worse, those like 100 million a pop jets jets that aren’t even fit for combat and which we have never used in combat, but have been making for like nostalgic reasons for about 30 years.@DessertHer – Yeah I know.  I don’t think people are usually that greedy and self-centered, but I think pundits and politicians promote it to stay relevant and get attention (to sell ad space).@Peter_pAndrew – Either dismantle medicare and the armed forces or tax the poor into the grave.  Pick one if you don’t want a progressive tax system.  Because to tax everyone equally would require massively cutting the taxes on the wealthy or jacking up the taxes on the poor.@tau_1 – Commie*  : P

  24. gene546 says:

    My argument is based in the many problems illegal aliens must endure to get across the border. And the many uncountable deaths of mothers, and their children, who are left alone, in the middle of nowhere because, they could not keep with the rest of the group, it happens that I live in Southern CA, and I assured you that is a tragedy to let this poor mothers die out along with their children because of the “American Dream.” As for the troops developed across the Arizona’s border to stop illegal immigration, I do agree with you. It’s unconstitutional, and Arizona would become kind of concentration state.

  25. agnophilo says:

    @gene546 – It’s horrible that people die trying to get across the border.  A solution would be a good thing, but hassling those that make it (and anyone with an accent or dark skin) wouldn’t help those that don’t make it.

  26. Uek says:

    I’d rather pay taxes and have hood people killing other then live in a country that gives people like DearRicky disability for internet. Universal health care<USA 

  27. agnophilo says:

    @Uek – You lost me.But yeah, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where people can be denied life saving assistance because some official doesn’t like the person.

  28. Uek says:

    @agnophilo – in the real world, people with money get better medical treament. Myself included.

  29. gene546 says:

    @agnophilo – My main argument about is, the deaths of mothers with their kids in the middle of the desert. The “coyotes” are unscrupulous. They don’t care how many would make it through the long journey.

  30. gene546 says:

    You’re totally right: this’ a free country. Even more, this law would increase, exponentially, racism. Yes, we must cut, at least, ten percent of the military budget, and invest these billions of dollars in creating more jobs for the American people.

  31. agnophilo says:

    @Uek – Okay.@gene546 – If we reformed immigration and they could get work visas or gain citizenship legitimately it would only hurt the coyotes.  @gene546 – We should spend the money creating temporary jobs, then dial the spending down as the economy recovers.

  32. The_ATM says:

    @agnophilo – “So far as spending it is a problem butdialing it back before the economy starts improving would just extendthe recession.  Government spending in some ways is what’s propping upthe economy at the moment.”Many analysts believe government spending will turn our recession into a depression.  So it seems you are making the assumption that the government propping up the economy is a good thing.  There is not consensus on that assumption.Without a doubt, military spending should be the first to go, but sadly since Obama has been in office, it has increased.  He also said he we would be mostly withdrawn from Iraq by now, plus or minus what the commanders say.”That’s why in washington they’re talking about a cut in next year’s budget”I would build a FSM temple with animal sacrifice and everything if the current Congress balanced the budget.  What I mean to say is I strongly doubt we will have a budget that does not add to our debt next year.  Like Jim in the video said, there is no combination of growth and taxes that can fund our current debt, unless we devalue our own currency.  But when/if we experience high inflation, the pensions of the middle class, the pay scales of the middle and lower class, any one with any savings or stocks valued in dollars get(s) wiped out.  Part of the tea party actually gets it (the ones advocating less spending), we do not live in a magical fairy land.  We will have to deal with economic realities at some point.

  33. gene546 says:

    @agnophilo – I agreed with you.

  34. agnophilo says:

    @The_ATM – A recession is caused by less spending.  If everyone in the country starts spending less it drives demand for products and services down and increases unemployment, which decreases spending, which lowers demand and increases unemployment etc etc.  That is why a big part of the government spending is extending unemployment insurance so people who get laid off can keep spending money and mitigate the harm done to the economy.  But yeah it hit rock bottom awhile ago and should be going up slowly this year.And yeah I doubt this congress is going to reduce the national debt, but they really aren’t in a position to at the moment.  Also, I don’t know if military spending went up so much as it’s now just accounted for.  Bush funded the two wars off-the-books and one of the first thing obama and the dems did was include the wars in the budget.@gene546 – Not often that that happens, lol.

  35. The_ATM says:

    @agnophilo – “A recession is caused by less spending.”Not exactly.  If people have too much debt to keep spending, which is what we have right now, more spending is the last thing that could be good for the economy.  Right now, we need a recession.Right now, the market is saying we have too many service sector jobs, not that people need to spend more to make sure we keep those jobs. Two thirds of our economy is consumption (people spending).  That is unsustainable.  The answer to our recession is to suck it up and deal with it.”But yeah it hit rock bottom awhile ago and should be going up slowly this year.”It might go up some, but as long as government keeps postponing the economy re-balancing, we will only be increasing the pain when we do hit bottom.  Many experts say hyper-inflation is a possibility–most of the others say it is almost certain.”Bush funded the two wars off-the-books and one of the first thing obama and the dems did was include the wars in the budget.”The difference in amounts is not because he was funding the war “off-the-books”.  When I said Obama has increased spending, that takes in consideration the “emergency supplemental” appropriations which constituted almost all the funding for the war.  I really wish there were more of a grassroots movement (besides half of the tea party) to push politicians to get us out of iraq and Afghanistan.

  36. The_ATM says:

    @agnophilo – Just to let you know, I made a post regarding the “recession is caused by a lack of spending” idea we discussed.

Speak yer mind.

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