Visualizing Unequal State Tax Burdens Across America
What percentage of your income goes into Uncle Sam’s pocket?
Your answer will vary depending on how much you earn. Data shows that low and middle-income families pay a much greater share of their income towards state and local taxes than wealthy families.
Today’s visualization uses data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) to map the effective tax rates—or taxes paid as a share of family income—across income groups at the state and local level.
Crunching the Numbers
The data reflects the effect of tax changes enacted through September 10, 2018, using 2015 income levels (the latest year for available, detailed income data). Both single and married tax filers are included, while elderly taxpayers, dependent filers, and those with negative incomes are excluded.
The report includes the state and local taxes for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Taxes are broken into 3 broad groups:
- Consumption taxes – general sales taxes and specialized excise taxes
- Property taxes – including taxes on homes, businesses, and motor vehicles
- Income taxes – paid by individuals and businesses
Federal taxes are not considered.
Editor’s note: It’s worth noting that federal personal income tax has progressive rates, with the lowest earning bracket at 10% and the highest earning bracket at 37% in 2019. At a national level, property taxes are not charged and there is a very low reliance on excise taxes—both of which tend to be regressive as outlined below.
The report includes both taxable and tax-exempt income such as worker’s compensation benefits. It also includes estimates for the amount of unreported income.
Which States Have the Most Unequal Tax Burdens?
Across the U.S., there is a wide disparity in how taxes affect different income groups. Here’s how it all breaks down, ranked in order of tax system inequality*:
Total State and Local Taxes As a Share of Income
By State and Income Group
|RANK||STATE||LOWEST 20%||MIDDLE 60%||TOP 1%|
|50||District of Columbia||6.3%||9.8%||9.5%|
* The ITEP Tax Inequality Index measures the effects of each state’s tax structure on income inequality. In states that rank high for inequality, incomes are less equal after state and local taxes are applied than before. On the flip side, states with the most equality are those where incomes are at least somewhat more equal after state and local taxes are levied than before.
Washington has the most unequal tax burdens. Proportional to their income, Washington taxpayers in the bottom 20% pay almost 6x more than those in the top 1%.
At the other end of the scale, California has the most equal tax system. As a share of their income, the state’s poorest families pay only 0.84x what the wealthiest families pay.
Overall, however, the vast majority of tax systems are regressive.
On average, the lowest 20% of income earners pay 1.54x more of their income in taxes compared to the top 1%.
The Main Causes
Two main factors drive a tax system’s (lack of) equality: how the state designs each tax, and the state’s reliance on different tax sources.
To better explain how this works, let’s take a closer look at each type of tax.
Sales & Excise Taxes
These taxes apply only to spent income, and exempt saved income. Since families with a higher household income are able to save a much larger percentage of their income, and the poorest families can barely save at all, the tax is regressive by nature.
The particular types of items that are taxed affect fairness as well. Quite a few states include food in their sales tax base, and low-income families spend the majority of their income on groceries and other necessities.
Not only that, excise taxes are levied on a small subset of goods that typically have a practical per-person maximum. For example, one person can only use so much fuel. As a wealthy family’s income increases, they generally do not continue to increase their spending on these goods.
States rely on these taxes more than any other tax source, which only exacerbates the problem.
For the average household, the home makes up the majority of their total wealth—meaning most of their wealth is taxed. However, the wealth composition of richer families skews much more heavily towards stock portfolios, business equity, and other assets, which are exempt from property taxes.
While these types of assets are subject to taxes like capital gains and dividends, the distinction is that these taxes are levied only on earned gains. In contrast, property taxes are owed simply as a result of owning the asset.
What about those who don’t own homes? Landlords generally pass on the cost of property tax to renters in the form of higher rent. Since rent comprises a much higher share of expenses for poorer families, this makes property tax even more inequitable.
State income taxes are typically progressive. This means effective tax rates go up as income goes up. Here’s how the U.S. averages break down:
- Low-income families: 0.04%
- Middle-income families: 2.1%
- Top 1%: 4.6%
However, certain policy choices can turn this on its head. Some states have a flat rate for all income levels, a lack of deductions and credits for low-income taxpayers, or tax loopholes that can be beneficial for wealthier income groups.
Nine states charge no income tax at all, garnering reputations as “low tax” states—but this is true only for high-income families. In order to make up for the lost revenue, states rely more heavily on tax sources that disproportionately affect the lowest earners.
Evidently, states with personal income taxes have more equitable effective tax burdens.
Tackling Systemic Issues
Regressive state tax systems negatively impact the after-tax income of low and middle-income families. This means they have less to spend on daily expenses, or to save for the future.
Not only that, because wealthier families aren’t contributing a proportional share of tax dollars, state revenues grow more slowly.
For states looking to create a more equitable tax system, states with progressive systems offer some guidance:
- Graduated income tax rates
- Additional tax over a high-income threshold (e.g $1 million)
- Limits on tax breaks for upper-income taxpayers
- Targeted low-income tax credits
- Lower reliance on regressive consumption taxes
By implementing such policies, governments may see more tax equality—and more tax dollars for programs and services.
Hat tip to reddit user prikhodkop, whose visualization introduced us to this data.
Basic Income Experiments Around the World
Amid the pandemic, the idea of Universal Basic Income has been gaining steam with policymakers. Where has it been tried, and has it worked?
Basic Income Experiments Around the World
What if everyone received monthly payments to make life easier and encourage greater economic activity? That’s the exact premise behind Universal Basic Income (UBI).
The idea of UBI as a means to both combat poverty and improve economic prospects has been around for decades. With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on economies worldwide, momentum behind the idea has seen a resurgence among certain groups.
Of course, the money to fund basic income programs has to come from somewhere. UBI relies heavily on government budgets or direct funding to cover the regular payments.
As policymakers examine this trade-off between government spending and the potential benefits, there is a growing pool of data to draw inferences from. In fact, basic income has been piloted and experimented on all around the world—but with a mixed bag of results.
What Makes Basic Income Universal?
UBI operates by giving people the means to meet basic necessities with a regular stipend. In theory, this leaves them free to spend their money and resources on economic goods, or searching for better employment options.
Before examining the programs, it’s important to make a distinction between basic income and universal basic income.
With these parameters in mind, and thanks to data from the Stanford Basic Income Lab, we’ve mapped 48 basic income programs that demonstrate multiple features of UBI and are regularly cited in basic income policy.
Some mapped programs are past experiments used to evaluate basic income. Others are ongoing or new pilots, including recently launched programs in Germany and Spain.
Recently, Canada joined the list as countries considering UBI as a top policy priority in a post-COVID world. But as past experiments show, ideas around basic income can be implemented in many different ways.
Basic Income Programs Took Many Forms
Basic income pilots have seen many iterations across the globe. Many paid out in U.S. dollars, while others chose to stick with local currencies (marked by an asterisk for estimated USD value).
|Program||Location||Recipients||Payment Frequency||Amount ($US/yr)||Dates|
|Abundant Birth Project||San Francisco, U.S.||100||Monthly||$12,000-$18,000||TBD|
|Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend||Alaska, U.S.||667,047||Annually||$1,000-$2,000||1982-Present|
|Baby's First Years||New York, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||New Orleans, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||Omaha, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||Twin Cities, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Basic Income for Farmers||Gyeonggi Province, South Korea||430,000||Annually||$509*||TBD|
|Basic Income Grant (BIG) Pilot||Omitara, Namibia||930||Monthly||$163*||2008-2009|
|Basic Income Project||Not Disclosed||3,000||Monthly||$600-$12,000||2019-Present|
|Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Revenue Fund||Jackson County and area, NC, U.S.||15,414||Biannually||$7,000-$12,000||1996-Present|
|Eight Pilot Project||Busibi, Uganda||150||Monthly||$110-$219*||2017-2019|
|Evaluation of the Citizens' Basic Income Program||Maricá, Brazil||42,000||Monthly||$360*||2019-Present|
|Finland Basic Income Experiment||Finland||2,000||Monthly||$7,793*||2017-2018|
|Gary Income Maintenance Experiments||Gary, U.S.||1,782||Monthly||$3,300-$4,300||1971-1974|
|Give Directly||Western Kenya||20,847||Monthly or Lump Sum||$274||2017-2030|
|Give Directly||Saiya County, Kenya||10,500||Lump Sum||$333||2014-2017|
|Give Directly||Rarieda District, Kenya||503||Monthly or Lump Sum||$405-$1,525||2011-2013|
|Human Development Fund||Mongolia||2,700,000||Monthly||$187||2010-2012|
|Ingreso Mínimo Vital||Spain||850,000||Monthly||$6,535-$14,358*||2020-Present|
|Iran Cash Transfer Programme||Iran||75,000,000||Monthly||$48||2010-Present|
|Madhya Pradesh Unconditional Cash Transfers Project||Madhya Pradesh, India||5,547||Monthly||$26-$77*||2011-2012|
|Magnolia Mother's Trust||Jackson, MS, U.S.||80||Monthly||$12,000||2019-Present|
|Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment||Winnipeg, Canada||1,677||Monthly||$3,842-$5,864*||1975-1978|
|Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment||Dauphin, Canada||586||Monthly||$3,842-$5,864*||1975-1978|
|My Basic Income||Germany||120||Monthly||$17,160*||2020-2023|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Jersey City, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Paterson, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Passaic, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Trenton, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Scranton, PA, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Hamilton and area, Canada||2,748||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Thunder Bay and area, Canada||1,908||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Lindsay, Canada||1,844||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Preserving Our Diversity||Santa Monica, U.S.||250||Monthly||$7,836-$8,964||2017-Present|
|Quatinga Velho||Quatinga, Mogi das Cruces, Brazil||67||Monthly||$197*||2008-2014|
|Rural Income Maintenance Experiment||Duplin County, NC, U.S.||810||Monthly||Varied (NIT)||1970-1972|
|Rural Income Maintenance Experiment||Iowa, U.S.||810||Monthly||Varied (NIT)||1970-1972|
|Scheme $6,000||Hong Kong, China||4,000,000||Annually||$771*||2011-2012|
|Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment||Seattle, U.S.||2,042||Monthly||$3,800-$5,600||1971-1982|
|Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment||Denver, U.S.||2,758||Monthly||$3,800-$5,600||1971-1982|
|Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration||Stockton, U.S.||125||Monthly||$6,000||2019-Present|
|Transition-Age Youth Basic Income Pilot Program||Santa Clara, CA, U.S.||72||Monthly||$12,000||2020-2021|
|Wealth Partaking Scheme||Macau, China||700,600||Annually||$750-$1,150||2008-Present|
|Youth Basic Income Program||Gyeonggi Province, South Korea||125,000||Quarterly||$848*||2018-Present|
|Citizen's Basic Income Pilot||Scotland||TBD||Monthly||TBD||TBD|
|People's Prosperity Guaranteed Income Demonstration Pilot||St. Paul, U.S.||150||Monthly||$6,000||2020-2022|
Many of the programs meet the classical requirements of UBI. Of the 48 basic income programs tallied above, 75% paid out monthly, and 60% were paid out to individuals.
However, for various reasons, not all of these programs follow UBI requirements. For example, 38% of the basic income programs were paid out to households instead of individuals, and many programs have paid out in lump sums or over varying time frames.
Interestingly, the need for better understanding of basic income has resulted in many divergences between programs. Some programs were only targeted at specific groups like South Korea’s Basic Income for Farmers program, while others like the Baby’s First Years program in the U.S. have been experimenting with different dollar amounts in order to evaluate efficiency.
Other experiments based payments made off of the total income of recipients. For example, in the U.S., the Rural Income and New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiments paid out using a negative income tax (return) on earnings, while recipients of Canada’s Ontario Basic Income Pilot received fixed amounts minus 50% of their earned income.
Varying Programs with Varied Results
So is basic income the real deal or a pipe dream? The results are still unclear.
Some, like the initial pilots for Uganda’s Eight program, were found to result in significant multipliers on economic activity and well-being. Other programs, however, returned mixed results that made further experimentation difficult. Finland’s highly-touted pilot program decreased stress levels of recipients across the board, but didn’t positively impact work activity.
The biggest difficulty has been in keeping programs going and securing funding. Ontario’s three-year projects were prematurely cancelled in 2018 before they could be completed and assessed, and the next stages of Finland’s program are in limbo.
Likewise in the U.S., start-up incubator Y Combinator has been planning a $60M basic income study program, but can’t proceed until funding is secured.
A Post-COVID Future for UBI?
In light of COVID-19, basic income has once again taken center stage.
Many countries have already implemented payment schemes or boosted unemployment benefits in reaction to the pandemic. Others like Spain have used that momentum to launch fully-fledged basic income pilots.
It’s still too early to tell if UBI will live up to expectations or if the idea will fizzle out, but as new experiments and policy programs take shape, a growing amount of data will become available for policymakers to evaluate.
The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart
The world’s total GDP crested $88 trillion in 2019—but how are the current COVID-19 economic contractions affecting its future outlook?
The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart
The global economy can seem like an abstract concept, yet it influences our everyday lives in both obvious and subtle ways. Nowhere is this clearer than in the current economic state amid the throes of the pandemic.
Editor’s note: Annual data on economic output is a lagging indicator, and is released the following year by organizations such as the World Bank. The figures in this diagram provide a snapshot of the global economy in 2019, but do not necessarily represent the impact of recent developments such as COVID-19.
Top 10 Countries by GDP (2019)
In the one-year period since the last release of official data in 2018, the global economy grew approximately $2 trillion in size—or about 2.3%.
The United States continues to have the top GDP, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the world economy. China also continued to grow its share of global GDP, going from 15.9% to 16.3%.
|Rank||Country||GDP||% of Global GDP|
|Top 10 Countries||$58.7 trillion||66.9%|
In recent years, the Indian economy has continued to have an upward trajectory—now pulling ahead of both the UK and France—to become one of the world’s top five economies.
In aggregate, these top 10 countries combine for over two-thirds of total global GDP.
2020 Economic Contractions
So far this year, multiple countries have experienced temporary economic contractions, including many of the top 10 countries listed above.
The following interactive chart from Our World in Data helps to give us some perspective on this turbulence, comparing Q2 economic figures against those from the same quarter last year.
One of the hardest hit economies has been Peru. The Latin American country, which is about the 50th largest in terms of GDP globally, saw its economy contract by 30.2% in Q2 despite efforts to curb the virus early.
Spain and the UK are also feeling the impact, posting quarterly GDP numbers that are 22.1% and 21.7% smaller respectively.
Meanwhile, Taiwan and South Korea are two countries that may have done the best at weathering the COVID-19 storm. Both saw minuscule contractions in a quarter where the global economy seemed to grind to a halt.
Projections Going Forward
According to the World Bank, the global economy could ultimately shrink 5.2% in 2020—the deepest cut since WWII.
See below for World Bank projections on GDP in 2020 for when the dust settles, as well as the subsequent potential for recovery in 2021.
|Country/ Region / Economy Type||2020 Growth Projection||2021E Rebound Forecast|
|East Asia and Pacific||-0.5%||6.6%|
|Europe and Central Asia||-4.7%||3.6%|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||-7.2%||2.8%|
|Middle East and North Africa||-4.2%||2.3%|
Source: World Bank Global Economic Prospects, released June 2020
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