A favorite talking point used by conservatives to justify giving more tax breaks to the wealthy is that 50% of Americans pay no taxes. The truth is that 86% of Americans pay taxes.
Here is Donald Trump on Fox and Friends this morning via Media Matters claiming that 50% of Americans pay no taxes:
Sean Hannity has also pushed this talking point hard:
The truth is that the talking point that half of all Americans pay no taxes is a misrepresentation. Here is the full quote from the Tax Policy Center,
The fraction of tax units paying no income tax varies widely by filing status and type of unit. About 47 percent of single filers will owe no tax, compared with 38 percent of joint filers and 72 percent of heads of household. More than half of elderly tax units and tax units with children will pay no income tax this year.
The 47% statistic is not all Americans pay no taxes, but single filers who will pay no federal income taxes. According to the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities the real reason why 47%-51% of Americans paid no federal income taxes in 2009 is,
The 51 percent figure is an anomaly that reflects the unique circumstances of 2009, when the recession greatly swelled the number of Americans with low incomes and when temporary tax cuts created by the 2009 Recovery Act — including the “Making Work Pay” tax credit and an exclusion from tax of the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits — were in effect. Together, these developments removed millions of Americans from the federal income tax rolls. Both of these temporary tax measures have since expired.
The combination of the recession and the Obama stimulus cut taxes to low and middle income Americans led to fewer Americans owing federal income tax in 2009.
The Tax Policy Center has tried to correct Fox News and the right wing media’s misuse of their research. In April 2010, Howard Glickman of the TPC wrote,
Let me explain—repeat actually—what this means: About half of taxpayers paid no federal income tax last year. It does not mean they paid no tax at all. Many shelled out Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. In fact, only 14 percent of Americans didn’t pay either income or payroll taxes. Some paid property taxes and, it is fair to say, just about all of them paid sales taxes of one kind or another. So to say they pay no taxes is flat wrong.
However, this class warfare-like rhetoric plays to a perception that the income tax is a chump tax: Only hard-working folks like us pay it. The welfare queens don’t. The super-rich don’t. It is a powerful emotional argument. It is also flat wrong.
The actual number of Americans who don’t pay any taxes isn’t half, but 14%. This group of non-taxpayers of any kind is largely composed of the elderly and disabled. The people who don’t pay taxes do so because they can’t work.
The myth that the wealthy are carrying the tax burden for America is used to justify tax cuts for the rich. Conservatives use the inaccurate statistic hand in hand with their, “wealthy are the job creators argument.” One statistic that was intended to demonstrate the loss of income due to the recession, along with the impact of the Obama tax cuts has been distorted and misused to justify a policy of not asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.
The truth is that 86% of Americans pay taxes. In one recession strapped year (2009), less than half of single filer taxpayers paid federal income taxes.
Millions of Americans are not being told the truth that almost 90% of us pay taxes, and that much of the reason why there were fewer people paying federal income taxes in 2009 was that Barack Obama signed the largest tax cut in US history.
Since the truth undercuts the conservative’s reverse Robin Hood steal from the poor to give to the rich policy, they are going to do their best to keep the facts buried under a mountain of misinformation.
Anytime anyone tells you that half of Americans paid no taxes, do your country a favor and straighten them out. We have the facts. It’s time to tear down this talking point.