45% of Americans Don’t Pay Income Tax (but They Pay other Taxes)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015
(photo: robynmac, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The percentage of Americans who don’t pay income tax has dropped from the 47% figure used by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to his detriment in 2012. But as they did then, the bulk of those people are still paying taxes.


The Tax Policy Center earlier this month released figures showing 45.3% of households don’t pay any income taxes. That’s down slightly from the 45.4% who paid no income tax last year and a bit more than the 45.8% who paid no income taxes in 2011, showing Romney was off a bit in his calculations.


Romney had used the 47% figure to imply there were a lot of Obama supporters who weren’t contributing their fair share to the government. But the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, pointed out that about two-thirds of those who don’t pay income tax still pay payroll taxes, sales taxes and other levies. Only 17.3% of Americans pay neither income tax nor payroll tax and most of those are retired seniors making do with very small incomes.


Of course, some of those paying no income taxes are not making do with small incomes. Almost 33,000 people making more than $200,000 paid no income tax in 2011; usually because their income comes from tax-free bonds.

-Steve Straehley, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Romney’s 47 Percent? Now 45 Percent (by Bernie Becker, The Hill)

Who Doesn’t Pay Federal Taxes? (Tax Policy Center)

Tax Units with Zero or Negative Income Tax (Tax Policy Center)

33,000 with Income of more than $200,000 Paid No U.S. Income Tax (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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