As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
While this quote was penned in 1789, his words still ring true today. U.S. taxation has changed over time, but it has always existed in some shape or form for over 250 years.
U.S. Taxation: 1765 to Today
In today’s infographic from New York Life Investments, we explore the history of U.S. taxation – from its colonial roots to its recent reform.
The modern American tax code has little resemblance to its early iterations.
Over the last few centuries, Americans have battled against British taxation, faced sky-high tax rates to fund war efforts, and enjoyed tax cuts designed to boost economic growth.
A Timeline of U.S. Taxation
Today, total U.S. tax revenue exceeds $3.4 trillion. Below are some notable events that have shaped modern American taxation.
Colonial Roots: 1765 to 1783
1765 – Stamp Act
In its first direct tax on the colonists, Britain places a tax on all paper – including ship’s papers, court documents, advertisements, and even playing cards.
1767 – Townshend Revenue Act
Importation duties are placed on British products such as glass, paint, and tea. The taxes are expected to raise £40,000 annually, (£6,500,000 in 2018 GBP). As hostilities continue to bubble up, colonists argue for “No taxation without representation”. Although taxes are imposed on the colonists, they aren’t able to elect representatives to British parliament.
1770 – The Boston Massacre
British troops occupy Boston to end the boycott on British goods. The March 5th Boston Massacre sees five colonists killed. By April, all Townshend duties are repealed except for the one on tea.
1773 – The Tea Act (May 10)
Britain grants the struggling British East India Company a monopoly on tea in America. While no new taxes are imposed, this angers colonists as it is seen as a thinly veiled plan to gain colonial support for the Townshend tax while threatening local business.
1773 – The Boston Tea Party (December 16)
Three ships arrive in Boston carrying British East India Company tea. Colonists refuse to allow the unloading of the tea, throwing all 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbour.
1775-1783 – The American Revolutionary War
Growing tensions between Britain and the colonists erupt in a full-scale war. After eight long years, Britain officially recognizes the independence of the United States.
A Free Nation: 1787 to 1943
1787 – The U.S. Constitution
Congress gains the “power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.” The government primarily earns revenue from excise taxes and tariffs, including an “importation tax” on slaves.
1791-1794 – Whiskey Rebellion
Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Secretary of Treasury, leads the implementation of a whiskey excise tax. In 1794, whiskey rebels destroy a tax inspector’s home. President Washington sends in troops and quells the rebellion.
1862 – The Nation’s First Income Tax
To help pay for the Civil War, President Lincoln legislates the nation’s first income tax.
|Income level (1862 dollars)||Income level (2019 dollars)||Tax Rate|
1913 – 16th Amendment
As World War I looms the 16th amendment is ratified, allowing for taxation without allocation according to state populations. An income tax is permanently introduced for both individuals and corporations, and the first Form 1040 is created.
|Income Level (1913 dollars)||Income level (2019 dollars)||Tax Rate|
1918 – The Revenue Act
Tax rates skyrocket to pay for World War I efforts. The top tax rate is 77%.
1935 – Social Security Act
In light of the Great Depression, the Social Security Act introduces:
- An old-age pension program
- Unemployment insurance
- Funding for health and welfare programs
To fund the programs, a 2% tax is shared equally by an employee and their employer.
1942 – The Revenue Act
Described by President Roosevelt as “the greatest tax bill in American history”, the Act increases taxes and the numbers of citizens subject to income tax. Total personal and corporate income tax revenue more than doubles:
|Year||Revenue||2019 dollar equivalent|
|1941||$3.4 billion||$59.2 billion|
|1942||$8.0 billion||$123.8 billion|
1943 – Current Tax Payment Act
It becomes mandatory for employers to withhold taxes from employees’ wages and remit them four times per year.
Modern Times: 1961 to 2018
1961 – Beginning of The Computer Age
The National Computer Center at Martinsburg, West Virginia is formally dedicated to assisting the IRS in its shift to computer data processing.
1986 – Tax Reform Act
The Tax Reform Act:
- Lowers the top individual tax rate from 50% to 28%
- Increases taxes on capital gains from 20% to 28%
- Reduces corporate tax breaks
The revisions are designed to make the tax code simpler and fairer.
1992 – Electronic Filing
Taxpayers who owe money are given the option to file electronically.
2001 – Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act
President George W. Bush implements large tax cuts:
- Creates a new lowest individual tax rate of 10%
- Reduces the top individual tax rate from 39.6% to 35%
- Doubles child tax credit from $500 to $1,000* (*From $700 to $1,400 in 2019 dollars)
2017 – Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
President Trump signs off on reductions in tax rates, while some deductions are made more restrictive.
For example, State and Local Taxes (SALT) deductions are capped at $10,000. Residents in high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey, California and Connecticut could see substantially higher tax bills.
U.S. taxation policy remains a contentious issue and shifts depending on who is in the White House.
Investors need to stay informed on current legislation, so they can engage in proactive financial planning and minimize their tax obligations.
Ranked: The Best and Worst Pension Plans, by Country
As the global population ages, pension reform is more important than ever. Here’s a breakdown of how key countries rank in terms of pension plans.
Ranked: Countries with the Best and Worst Pension Plans
The global population is aging—by 2050, one in six people will be over the age of 65.
As our aging population nears retirement and gets closer to cashing in their pensions, countries need to ensure their pension systems can withstand the extra strain.
This graphic uses data from the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index (MMGPI) to showcase which countries are best equipped to support their older citizens, and which ones aren’t.
Each country’s pension system has been shaped by its own economic and historical context. This makes it difficult to draw precise comparisons between countries—yet there are certain universal elements that typically lead to adequate and stable support for older citizens.
MMGPI organized these universal elements into three sub-indexes:
- Adequacy: The base-level of income, as well as the design of a region’s private pension system.
- Sustainability: The state pension age, the level of advanced funding from government, and the level of government debt.
- Integrity: Regulations and governance put in place to protect plan members.
These three measures were used to rank the pension system of 37 different countries, representing over 63% of the world’s population.
Here’s how each country ranked:
The Importance of Sustainability
While all three sub-indexes are important to consider when ranking a country’s pension system, sustainability is particularly significant in the modern context. This is because our global population is increasingly skewing older, meaning an influx of people will soon be cashing in their retirement funds. As a consequence, countries need to ensure their pension systems are sustainable over the long-term.
There are several factors that affect a pension system’s sustainability, including a region’s private pension system, the state pension age, and the balance between workers and retirees.
The country with the most sustainable pension system is Denmark. Not only does the country have a strong basic pension plan—it also has a mandatory occupational scheme, which means employers are obligated by law to provide pension plans for their employees.
Adequacy versus Sustainability
Several countries scored high on adequacy but ranked low when it came to sustainability. Here’s a comparison of both measures, and how each country scored:
Ireland took first place for adequacy, but scored relatively low on the sustainability front at 27th place. This can be partly explained by Ireland’s low level of occupational coverage. The country also has a rapidly aging population, which skews the ratio of workers to retirees. By 2050, Ireland’s worker to retiree ratio is estimated to go from 5:1 to 2:1.
Similar to Ireland, Spain ranks high in adequacy but places extremely low in sustainability.
There are several possible explanations for this—while occupational pension schemes exist, they are optional and participation is low. Spain also has a low fertility rate, which means their worker-to-retiree ratio is expected to decrease.
Steps Towards a Better System
All countries have room for improvement—even the highest-ranking ones. Some general recommendations from MMGPI on how to build a better pension system include:
- Increasing the age of retirement: Helps maintain a more balanced worker-to-retiree ratio.
- Enforcing mandatory occupational schemes: Makes employers obligated to provide pension plans for their employees.
- Limiting access to benefits: Prevents people from dipping into their savings preemptively, thus preserving funds until retirement.
- Establishing strong pension assets to fund future liabilities: Ideally, these assets are more than 100% of a country’s GDP.
Pension systems across the globe are under an increasing amount of pressure. It’s time for countries to take a hard look at their pension systems to make sure they’re ready to support their aging population.
How COVID-19 Has Impacted Black-White Financial Inequality
COVID-19 has worsened Black-White financial inequality, with Black Americans more likely to see negative impacts to their job and income.
How COVID-19 Impacted Black-White Financial Inequality
COVID-19 has disrupted everything from economic markets to personal finances, but not everyone feels its effects equally. When compared with White Americans, Black Americans’ financial situations have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
In this infographic from McKinsey & Co., we outline the financial vulnerabilities of Black Americans, their increased usage of financial services since the onset of the pandemic, and their lower satisfaction levels with those services.
Financial Vulnerabilities of Black Americans
Compared to White Americans, more Black Americans say their job and income have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.
|My job has been negatively impacted by COVID-19||My income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19|
Looking forward, Black Americans also report greater job security concerns and have less savings to protect themselves financially. In the event of a job loss, 57% of Black Americans report their savings would last four months or less, compared with 44% of White Americans.
With less of a cash buffer on hand, Black consumers are also more likely to have missed a recent bill payment.
|Skipped at least 1 payment||Partially paid at least 1 bill||Paid in full|
This includes being unable to pay for basic items such as utilities, telephone and internet, and mortgage payments.
How do they begin to manage these challenges?
Use of Financial Services
Black Americans increased their use of financial services more than White Americans.
Banking activities in the past two weeks, per March-June 2020 surveys
|Withdrew cash||Deposited cash||Deposited checks||Contacted bank for service on account||Opened new accounts||Received advice on digital tool usage|
For example, Black Americans were about twice as likely to request account service, open an account, or receive advice on digital tools. In addition, Black families were more likely to leverage a fintech platform and have been more active in opening fintech accounts since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
However, as Black Americans seek out more financial help, some are not happy with the service they receive.
Satisfaction with Financial Services
Overall, Black families are less satisfied than White families across all types of financial activities. These differences were most pronounced for digital tool advice, where 38% of Black Americans were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied, compared with just 12% of White Americans.
Even though Black people were less satisfied with banking services, they were more likely to say that bank performance was above their expectations. This may suggest that expectations are lower for Black families than they are for White families.
Black Americans were also much less likely to trust their financial advisor.
|Do not trust/losing trust||Indifferent||Gaining trust/trust|
From March-June 2020, the percentage of Black people distrusting their advisors rose from 12% to 32%. Over the same time period, White people’s distrust of financial advisors remained stable at 10%.
A notable exception: White and Black Americans were both satisfied with fintech providers. Only 5% of White Americans and 8% of Black Americans expressed some level of dissatisfaction with fintech companies.
Time to Examine the Financial System?
COVID-19 has perpetuated Black-White financial inequality. Data shows that Black families are more likely to be financially vulnerable, and increase their use of financial services during the COVID-19 crisis. However, they are less likely to feel satisfied with these services.
Financial institutions can urgently review their remote and in-person customer service procedures to ensure the needs of all families are being met.
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