Federal Taxes and Inequality in the U.S. — and Ontario’s HST
Today the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published analysis and data on the incidence of different US federal taxes by income group.Â
They are a model of summary data and accessibility, with easilyÂ downloadable spreadsheet files,Â that Canada’s federal agencies (whether Revenue Canada, Statscan or the Parliamentary Budget Office) would do well to emulate.Â The data show the incidence of individual income taxes, social insurance taxes, corporate income taxes and excise taxes by quintiles and top income groups over the 1979 to 2007 period.
A couple interesting things of note:
1.Â Â Everyone should know by now just what an enormous increase in inequality there has been in the Â United States and CanadaÂ over the past few decades, as Emmanuel Saez, Thomas Picketty, Armine Yalnizyan, MichaelÂ Veall and others have demonstrated, but this also illustrates how the tax system has become increasingly regressive.
Average pre-tax incomes increased by 51% for all income groups in the U.S. during the 1979 to 2007 period.Â For the lowest quintile, the increase was only 11%, while for the top quintile, the increase was 89%.Â Â In fact, for all income grouops below the top quintile, the increase in average incomes was less than 30%. Â For the very top 1% of the income spectrum, the increase in average incomes was a champagne-cork poppingÂ 241%.Â Â Â
The really soberingÂ fact is that the increase in inequality on some measuresÂ after taxesÂ Â is even greater as a result of regressive tax changes: The after tax incomes of the top 1% after taxes increased by 281%, more than the increase in their pre-tax incomes, and the relativeÂ share of their income compared to the lowest income group increased more after tax than before federal taxes.
These figures don’t include the impact of other taxes at the state or local level, including income, sales, payroll and property taxes, that are probably more regressive.
2.Â The CBO analysis attributes corporate income taxes by income group based on their receipt of capital income, with 80% of this going to the topÂ ten percent Â in 2007.Â Â Â (Their notes acknowledge that some models suggest thatÂ some of the tax may be borne by workers in the form of reduced earnings, but they choose to do it this way.)Â Â Â
Â This is the same method I used to analyze the impact of Ontario’s HST tax reform package, building on the work that Statscan did for the Ontario NDP and included in the June 2010 issue of our Economic Climate for Bargaining.Â Â Â The share of investment income (dividend and capital gains) going to the top income group that I calculated from Revenue Canada data for Ontario was similar: 75% for the top 8% of taxfilers.
This analysis shows that, yes, the Ontario tax reform package is progressive at the lower end, but as a result of these corporate tax cuts, the impact is also quite regressive at the top end.Â Â There’s a chart in the ECB document that vividly illustrates this.Â Â Ontario’s Ministry of Finance belatedly responded to the NDP’s analysis with their own technical paper.Â This in effect affirms the Ontario NDP’s analysis despite a number of problems that Erin recent wrote about.Â Â Â In contrast to the U.S. CBO’s straightforward approach on the distrubutional impact of CIT cuts, theÂ method used by the Ontario Ministry of Finance to model the impact of these corporate tax cuts seems tortuous and is ultimately incomplete.Â Â
The Finance study assumes that some of the benefits ofÂ CIT and capital tax cutsÂ will flow through through lower prices and includes that in its tables, but doesn’t model the impact of CIT and capital tax cuts on investment income.Â Â It also neglects to model the impact of any business savings that are not passed through on investment income.Â Â That’s another reason why their results are unfortunately baised.Â Â Â
Economic impactsÂ are oftenÂ complex, andÂ analyzing the impacts of course involves many simplifying assumptions.Â Â But from my perspective, it is better to be balanced and relatively more simple about these assumptions than to be complicated and inconsistent.Â Â The U.S. CBO provides a good model for this.