Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Real-World Middle Class Tax Rate: 75%

If we include all taxes, the real-world tax rate is much higher than the "official" income tax rate.

For those Americans earning between $34,500 and $106,000, the real-world middle class tax burden in high-tax locales is 15% + 25% + 5% + 15% + 15% = 75%. Yes, 75%.
Before you start listing the innumerable caveats and quibbles raised by any discussion of taxes, please hear me out first. Let's start by defining "taxes" as any fee that is mandated by law or legal necessity. In other words, taxes are what is not optional.

If we include all taxes, the real-world tax rate is much higher than the "official" income tax rate. These "other taxes" vary from nation to nation. France, for example, has a "television tax." It is mandatory, and since virtually every household has a TV this operates as a universal tax. The argument that this is "optional" is specious.

In every other advanced democracy, basic universal healthcare is paid by tax revenues. In the U.S., healthcare insurance is "optional" but this too is specious: in the real world, private healthcare insurance is mandatory because the alternative--having zero insurance--places your entire net worth and income at risk of catastrophic loss.

Having no healthcare insurance only makes sense if you have no real assets and a low income. At that point, your care will be provided by the taxpayer-funded Medicaid program, which is the default universal-care program in the U.S.

For this reason I consider the cost of private healthcare insurance in the U.S. the equivalent of a tax. We pay over $12,000 annually for barebones healthcare insurance, which amounts to about 15% of our gross income. Some countries pay for healthcare with a 15% tax, here we pay the 15% directly. There is no difference except the process of collecting the 15%. (The only real difference is that healthcare costs twice as much per person in the U.S. because the system is operated by cartels whose business model is fraud, opaque pricing and the elimination of competition via Central State regulation.)

Yes, the super-wealthy can absorb a $150,000 hospital bill, but the 99.9% cannot. Thus any claim that healthcare insurance is "optional" is specious.

Property tax is mandatory. Some countries have no property tax, others do. Once again, only counting social-insurance and income taxes as the "official tax rate" is horrendously misleading. For countries without property taxes, the revenues are collected as value-added taxes (VAT) or higher income taxes. One way or another, the services paid by property taxes in the U.S. are paid by other tax schemes in countries without property taxes. So property taxes must be included in any accounting of total taxes paid.

Many of us who reside in states such as Illinois, New York, New Jersey and California pay $12,000 or more annually in property taxes. That is about 15% of our household income.

Renters pay the property taxes indirectly, but to the degree that rents would be lower if property taxes were eliminated and the tax burden shifted to a VAT, then renters "pay" the tax just like property owners.

Employees looking at the paycheck stubs do not see the entire tax paid on their labor. Empoyees may wonder why their net pay has stagnated for decades. One reason is that the total compensation costs of employees has risen substantially.

To give but one example of many, Social Security taxes were once modest, 3% paid by the employee and 3% paid by the employer for a total of 6% of the wage. Now the total for Social Security (12.4%) and Medicare (2.9%) is 15.3%. Self-employed people pay the total 15.3% as "self-employment tax." This is the real-world tax burden of Social Security and Medicare.
The 15.3% Social Security/Medicare tax starts with dollar one of net income. The Social Security tax goes away above around $106,000 in income, the Medicare tax does not.

Most employees do not know how much healthcare insurance "tax" is paid by their employer. To the degree that wages would rise if the healthcare "tax" was not paid by employers, then employees pay for this "tax" indirectly. To act like it isn't a mandatory part of compensation costs is both specious and misleading.

The only transparent way to calculate the total tax burden is to count all taxes (or equivalent) paid by self-employed property owners. Not counting the indirect taxes of healthcare and property taxes is misleading to the point of blatant misrepresentation.
The basic Federal income tax gives each individual earner $9,500 in standard deductions and exemptions. The tax rate for all income above that is:
$1 to $8,500: 10%
$8,501 to $34,500: 15%
$34,501 to $83,600: 25%
$83,601 to $174,400: 28%
$174,401 to $379,150: 33%
Above $379,151: 35%

These rates are scheduled to rise at the end of 2012 unless Congress acts to maintain rates at current levels.

Many households have gigantic interest deductions stemming from gigantic mortgages, but let's set aside outsized debt-based tax deductions as far from universal.

Above a rather modest $34,600 in taxable income and up to around $106,000, the real-world middle class tax burden in high-tax American locales is 75%:
Social Security and Medicare: 15.3%
Federal income tax: 25% (28% above $83,600)
State income tax: 5% (mid-range)
Healthcare insurance: 15%
Property tax: 15%
15% + 25% + 5% + 15% + 15% = 75%

Clearly, the percentage of income devoted to healthcare insurance and property taxes declines as income rises. Someone earning $200,000 has not only dropped the 12.4% Social Security tax for income above $106,000, healthcare insurance and property taxes as a percentage of their income drops from about 30% for those earning around $86,000 to 15%.

We can argue fruitlessly about how many tax angels can dance on the head of a pin, but all the caveats and quibbles don't change the basic fact that real-world tax rate for the "middle class" earning more than $34,500 in taxable income in high-tax locales is a confiscatory 75%.

Please don't tell me the U.S. is a "low-tax" nation; I might suffer a breakdown that I couldn't afford due to exclusions in my "voluntary" healthcare coverage.

Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change (print $25)
(Kindle eBook $9.95)

We are like passengers on the Titanic ten minutes after its fatal encounter with the iceberg: though our financial system seems unsinkable, its reliance on debt and financialization has already doomed it.We cannot know when the Central State and financial system will destabilize, we only know they will destabilize. We cannot know which of the State’s fast-rising debts and obligations will be renounced; we only know they will be renounced in one fashion or another.
The process of the unsustainable collapsing and a new, more sustainable model emerging is called revolution, and it combines cultural, technological, financial and political elements in a dynamic flux.
History is not fixed; it is in our hands. We cannot await a remote future transition to transform our lives. Revolution begins with our internal understanding and reaches fruition in our coherently directed daily actions in the lived-in world.

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