As we think about tax policy proposals designed to target specific or narrow groups of individuals, it’s important to understand who shoulders the burden of income taxes under the current system. The federal income tax system is already progressive, with high-income taxpayers paying a larger share of the tax burden under higher average tax rates than lower- and middle-income taxpayers.
Data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) shows us who pays federal income taxes. As illustrated below, higher-income taxpayers are responsible for paying a significantly higher share of the tax, and this trend has increased over the past three decades. For instance, in 2016, the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid about 37 percent of federal income taxes, more than twelve times the tax burden of the bottom half of taxpayers.
We see a similar trend when looking at other income percentiles. The bottom 90 percent of taxpayers accounted for about 45 percent of the overall tax burden in 1986, compared to approximately 31 percent in 2016. Conversely, the top 10 percent of taxpayers have seen an increase in their tax burden over the same period, from 55 percent of total income taxes in 1986 to almost 70 percent in 2016.