US Pandemic Response Influence on Inequality & Progressivity


The pandemic led to one of many largest fiscal responses in U.S. historical past, impacting households throughout the earnings distribution. A new report from the Congressional Finances Workplace (CBO) finds that these non permanent insurance policies, together with different fixtures of our taxA tax is a compulsory fee or cost collected by native, state, and nationwide governments from people or companies to cowl the prices of basic authorities providers, items, and actions.
and switch system, lowered earnings inequality in 2020 by greater than some other yr since 1979 when the CBO started measuring family earnings. The evaluation additionally exhibits that the federal tax system is markedly progressive, even when excluding the latest pandemic insurance policies, echoing our personal analysis on this matter and different latest tutorial proof.

In response to the pandemic, policymakers considerably expanded employment compensation and issued restoration rebate credit (stimulus checks) to households. Collectively, the 2 insurance policies elevated earnings by greater than $800 billion, or greater than $6,000 per family on common. In distinction to different federal means-tested applications focused towards low-income households, expanded unemployment and stimulus checks benefited households throughout the distribution. Simply over half of the advantages went to the highest three quintiles. Nonetheless, as a share of earnings, the insurance policies had the biggest profit for the underside quintile, representing greater than one-third of their incomes earlier than taxes and transfers. Laws additionally expanded Medicaid and the Supplemental Vitamin Help Program (SNAP), the 2 largest means-tested switch applications, additional boosting the incomes of households within the backside quintile.

On web, the insurance policies made the federal tax code extra redistributive and lowered earnings inequality to a 14-year low. The underside quintile noticed the biggest features in earnings after taxes and transfers in comparison with 2019, rising by about 15 p.c. Since 1979, the underside quintile’s earnings has elevated by 126 p.c.

US income growth after federal taxes and transfers data

Excessive-income households proceed to pay a big share of federal taxes, together with particular person earnings taxes, payroll taxes, company taxes, and excise taxes. In 2020, the highest quintile earned about 56 p.c of all earnings, however paid 81 p.c of federal taxes—12 share factors greater than in 2019, regardless of incomes about the identical share of earnings. The highest 1 p.c of households alone paid 31 p.c of all federal taxes.

Top 1 percent of US taxpayers pay about 31 percent of all federal taxes

Common federal tax charges (inclusive of all particular person earnings, company, payroll, and excises taxes) barely modified for the highest quintile however declined notably for everybody else, principally because of the restoration credit score rebates, which scale back tax liabilities. The underside quintile noticed its common tax priceThe typical tax price is the entire tax paid divided by taxable earnings. Whereas marginal tax charges present the quantity of tax paid on the following greenback earned, common tax charges present the general share of earnings paid in taxes.
fall by 17 share factors and grow to be detrimental, that means households acquired extra in tax credit than they paid in taxes. Even with out the rebate restoration credit, the underside quintile would have confronted near zero in federal tax liabilities resulting from different credit and decrease pre-tax incomes extra typically.

Lowest quintile of taxpayers receive more in benefits than paid in federal taxes Average federal tax rates by income

The general distribution of common tax charges, the place the highest quintile faces the biggest burden and the burden declines for every subsequent quintile, signifies the U.S. federal tax and switch system is progressive. A latest tutorial paper affirmed this discovering by trying not solely on the CBO information but additionally two different measures of earnings constructed by Treasury economists and different teachers. Although all three sources use totally different measures of earnings, all of them present that the “tax system has grow to be extra progressive and extra redistributive over the past a number of many years, with a lot of that change occurring lately.” The rise in progressivity is primarily resulting from a rise in transfers to households within the backside half of the earnings distribution.

Altogether, the information offered within the newest CBO report lends itself to a few principal takeaways:

  • COVID fiscal stimulus insurance policies considerably elevated incomes for folks within the backside quintile.
  • The COVID insurance policies made an already progressive federal tax and switch system much more progressive.
  • The federal tax system continues to rely closely on high-income taxpayers to boost income.

Policymakers ought to preserve these details in thoughts as they proceed to debate how progressive our tax system needs to be and weigh the advantages and prices of increasing federal switch applications going ahead.

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