Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report)


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Key Findings

All of this research relies on household-level data—drawn either from public-use tax return files or from large household-level surveys—to explore various aspects of the relationship between taxes and household behavior. As debates about the effects of proposed tax reforms continue in the s, this volume will be of interest to policy makers and scholars in the field of public finance.

Table of Contents. Comment: Harvey S. Gentry, Alison P. Comment: Brigitte C. Comment: David F.

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Samwick Comment: Roger H. Corporate retained earnings have increased particularly fast. The capital share varies widely across the income distribution. The vast majority of Americans earn little capital income. The capital share then rises steeply as one moves up the income distribution. At the very top, the fluctuations in the capital share are spectacular.

Early in the twentieth century, the top 0. In other words, in the post—World War II decades, most top earners derived their income from assets. From the s and s, the fraction of top earners deriving their income from work grew. This process culminated in when the capital share in the top 0. Since then, the capital share has bounced back. Total pretax income is the sum of capital income and labor income so the chart can also be read symmetrically from the top x-axis line as the fraction of labor income in top groups.

One potential concern with the computation of factor shares is that the frontier between labor and capital can be fuzzy. Is the rise of the capital share—especially at the top—a real phenomenon or an illusion caused by changes in tax avoidance? However, other forms of tax-induced shifting go in the opposite direction. In all businesses with passive owners—that is, as long as there is at least one outside investor—active owners have incentives to pay themselves high wages, as any residual profit is split across all owners including passive investors.

Moreover, in all closely held C-corporations, owners have incentives to pay themselves high wages too, because the top marginal labor income tax rate Taking into account all forms of shifting, it is unclear whether we overstate or understate the capital share. In turn, the key driver of the rise in capital income has been the rise in corporate retained earnings—an important macroeconomic phenomenon that could not be studied using individual income tax only. As shown by Online Appendix Table B.

These results confirm the earlier finding from Piketty and Saez that the rise in income concentration up to the late s was primarily a labor income phenomenon; they are also consistent with the more recent finding by Saez and Zucman that wealth concentration has increased sharply since The rise in wealth inequality leads to an increase in capital income concentration, which itself reinforces wealth inequality as top capital incomes are saved at a high rate. About a third of U.

How have changes in taxes and transfers affected the dynamic of posttax income? The progressivity of the U.

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Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation

Tax rates are computed as a percentage of pretax income. Since then, it has remained at that level.


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However, effective tax rates have become more compressed across the income distribution. There is, however, a downward trend over time. The bulk of the decline owes to the fall of corporate and estate taxes. Taxes include all forms of taxes at the federal, state, and local level. Tax rates are expressed as a fraction of pretax income. The tax reform has partly reverted the long-run decline in top tax rates. It involved a sizable increase in top marginal income tax rates—plus 9.

These are the largest hikes in top tax rates since the s, exceeding the increases of the Clinton administration. In , payroll taxes amount to One major evolution in the U. Overall, individualized transfers tend to be targeted to the middle class. The top panel depicts average individualized transfers received by posttax national income groups, expressed as a percent of the average national income in the full adult population. These transfers exclude Social Security retirement and disability benefits, and unemployment insurance benefits.


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  8. Transfers have played a key role in enabling its income to grow in recent years. In this article, we have combined tax, survey, and national accounts data to build distributional national accounts for the United States since They can be used to provide decompositions of growth by income groups consistent with macroeconomic growth; to quantify how government intervention shapes inequality by contrasting pretax and posttax income; to assess the effect of gender inequality on the overall distribution of income; to study how factor shares vary across the income spectrum; and to simulate the growth and distributional impacts of tax and transfer reforms.

    As inequality has become a key issue in the public debate in the United States, we feel that such distributional national accounts are a needed tool to better monitor economic growth and its distribution. We see three main avenues for future research. First, our data set should be seen as a prototype to be further developed and improved on—just like the national accounts themselves are regularly improved.

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    Looking forward, our assumptions and imputations could be refined by drawing on new knowledge on the incidence of taxes and transfers and by leveraging new and better data. For example, tax data after provide direct information on the value of employee health insurance benefits. Like the national accounts, we see our distributional national accounts as work in constant evolution. Our hope is that our prototype will ultimately be taken over, refined, published, and regularly improved on by government statistical agencies.

    Second, distributional national accounts can be used to consistently compare income across countries. The same methodology as the one pioneered in this article is currently being applied to other countries. Our long-term goal is to create distributional national accounts for as many countries as possible and to produce global distributions of income and wealth consistent with global income and wealth accounts.

    Estimates for France are from Garbinti, Goupille, and Piketty Third, it would be valuable to produce U. This would be particularly valuable at a time where discrepancies across states in terms of economic growth and opportunity have come to the forefront of the political debate. Since , the internal tax data have precise geographical indicators and are large enough to study state-level outcomes.

    Our approach naturally lends itself to the definition of national income across geographical units by considering the individual national income of residents in each geographical unit. Data replicating tables and figures in this article can be found in Piketty, Saez, and Zucman in the Harvard Dataverse, doi Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

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    Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Article Contents. Methodology to Distribute U. National Income. The Distribution of National Income.

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    Emmanuel Saez. Gabriel Zucman. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract This article combines tax, survey, and national accounts data to estimate the distribution of national income in the United States since Open in new tab Download slide. Open in new tab. The Distribution of Economic Growth in the United States The top panel displays the annualized growth rate of per-adult national income pretax and posttax, with income equally split between spouses for each percentile of the income distribution with a zoom within the top percentile over the — period.

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    Gender Gaps across the Distribution The top panel shows the median pretax labor income among all working-age adults 20 to 64 , men, and women. The Role of Transfers The top panel depicts average individualized transfers received by posttax national income groups, expressed as a percent of the average national income in the full adult population.

    In future work we plan to include estimates of tax evasion into our distributional national accounts. Earlier attempts include King , , Using tax data, Auten and Splinter have recently produced U. Instead of attempting to systematically match national income as we do, they add components to fiscal income.

    Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report) Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report)
    Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report) Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report)
    Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report) Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report)
    Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report) Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report)
    Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report) Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report)
    Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report) Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report)

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