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.
Ranked: The World’s Black Billionaires in 2021
Black billionaires make up fewer than 1% of all billionaires worldwide. Who are they, and how have they built their wealth?
The World’s Black Billionaires in 2021
Black billionaires make up fewer than 1% of all billionaires worldwide. Who are the select few who made it into the ranks of the world’s richest people?
In this graphic, we used the Forbes real-time billionaire list to highlight the most financially successful Black people, and the source(s) of their wealth.
Black Billionaires, Ranked
The data is as of February 24, 2021, and includes bi/multi racial individuals with Black ancestry. Altogether, there are 15 Black billionaires with a combined wealth of $48.9 billion.
Here is the how the full list breaks down:
|1||Aliko Dangote||$11.5B||Nigeria||Cement, sugar|
|2||Mike Adenuga||$6.1B||Nigeria||Telecom, oil|
|3||Robert F. Smith||$5.2B||United States||Private equity|
|4||Abdulsamad Rabiu||$4.8B||Nigeria||Cement, sugar|
|5||David Steward||$3.7B||United States||IT provider|
|6||Patrice Motsepe||$3.1B||South Africa||Mining|
|7||Alexander Karp||$3.0B||United States||Software firm|
|8||Oprah Winfrey||$2.6B||United States||TV shows|
|9||Michael Jordan||$1.6B||United States||Charlotte Hornets, endorsements|
|10||Michael Lee-Chin||$1.5B||Canada||Mutual funds|
|12||Kanye West||$1.3B||United States||Music, sneakers|
|13||Mohammed Ibrahim||$1.1B||United Kingdom||Communications|
|14||Shawn Carter (Jay-Z)||$1.0B||United States||Music, multiple|
|15||Tyler Perry||$1.0B||United States||Movies, television|
Aliko Dangote is the richest Black billionaire, and has held the title since 2013. He owns 85% of publicly-traded Dangote Cement, Africa’s largest cement producer. The company’s stock price went up more than 30% over the last year. In addition, Dangote also has investments in salt and sugar manufacturing companies.
The fifth richest Black person, David Steward, owns the technology solutions provider World Wide Technology. Steward had decided he wanted to be part of the technological revolution and founded the company in 1990, before the first internet browser had even been created. The company has since grown to be the largest Black-owned business in America with over $13.4 billion in annual revenue and more than 7,000 employees.
Best known for his music career, Shawn Carter, more commonly known as Jay-Z, is number 14 on the list. However, the rapper’s wealth goes far beyond his music. Jay-Z has built a diversified business empire, including investments in a fine art collection, an entertainment company, a clothing line, and alcohol brands. He recently sold half of his champagne brand to LVMH, the parent company of Dom Pérignon.
Unfortunately, little progress has been made with regards to the proportion of Black billionaires. Since 2011, Black billionaires have made up fewer than 1% of all billionaires worldwide.
In absolute numbers, the total number of billionaires rose by over 1,100 while the number of Black billionaires rose by just nine people.
The number of Black billionaires also falls very short of being representative of the general population. For example, only 8 or 1.2% of America’s 665 billionaires are Black. By contrast, Black people make up 12.2% of the U.S. population.
Breaking Through Barriers
There is still a large racial wealth gap between Black people and White people—even at the highest levels of financial achievement. However, despite these racial and systemic barriers, 14 of the 15 Black billionaires are self-made, meaning they built their wealth from the ground up. Who will be next to join the ranks?
“Innovation doesn’t happen without a person of color or a diversity of thought being at the table in order to challenge the status quo.”
How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over Two Centuries
This unique animated visualization uses health and wealth measurements to chart the evolution of countries over time.
How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over 221 Years
At the dawn of the 19th century, global life expectancy was only 28.5 years.
Outbreaks, war, and famine would still kill millions of people at regular intervals. These issues are still stubbornly present in 21st century society, but broadly speaking, the situation around the world has vastly improved. Today, most of humanity lives in countries where the life expectancy is above the typical retirement age of 65.
At the same time, while inequality remains a hot button topic within countries, income disparity between countries is slowing beginning to narrow.
This animated visualization, created by James Eagle, tracks the evolution of health and wealth factors in countries around the world. For further exploration, Gapminder also has a fantastic interactive chart that showcases the same dataset.
The Journey to the Upper-Right Quadrant
In general terms, history has seen health practices improve and countries become increasingly wealthy–trends that are reflected in this visualization. In fact, most countries drift towards the upper-right quadrant over the 221 years covered in the dataset.
However, that path to the top-right, which indicates high levels of both life expectancy and GDP per capita, is rarely a linear journey. Here are some of the noteworthy events and milestones to watch out for while viewing the animation.
1880s: Breaking the 50-Year Barrier
In the late 19th century, Nordic countries such as Sweden and Norway already found themselves past the 50-year life expectancy mark. This was a significant milestone considering the global life expectancy was a full 20 years shorter at the time. It wasn’t until the year 1960 that the global life expectancy would catch up.
1918: The Spanish Flu and WWI
At times, a confluence of factors can impact health and wealth in countries and regions. In this case, World War I coincided with one of the deadliest pandemics in history, leading to global implications. In the animation, this is abundantly clear as the entire cluster of circles takes a nose dive for a short period of time.
1933, 1960: Communist Famines
At various points in history, human decisions can have catastrophic consequences. This was the case in the Soviet Union (1933) and the People’s Republic of China (1960), where life expectancy plummeted during famines that killed millions of people. These extreme events are easy to spot in the animation due to the large populations of the countries in question.
1960s: Oil Economies Kick into High Gear
During this time, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia all experience massive booms in wealth, and in the following decade, smaller countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait rocket to the right edge of the visualization.
In following decades, both Iran and Iraq can be seen experiencing wild fluctuations in both health and wealth as regime changes and conflict begin to destabilize the region.
1990s: AIDS in Africa
In the animation, a number of countries plummet in unison at the end of the 20th century. These are sub-Saharan African countries that were hit hard by the AIDS pandemic. At its peak in the early ’00s, the disease accounted for more than half of deaths in some countries.
1995: Breaking the 65-Year Barrier
Global life expectancy reaches retirement age. At this point in time, there is a clear divide in both health and wealth between African and South Asian countries and the rest of the world. Thankfully, that gap is would continue to narrow in coming years.
1990-2000s: China’s Economic Rise
With a population well over a billion people, it’s impossible to ignore China in any global overview. Starting from the early ’90s, China begins its march from the left to right side of the chart, highlighting the unprecedented economic growth it experienced during that time.
What the Future Holds
If current trends continue, global life expectancy is expected to surpass the 80-year mark by 2100. And, sub-Saharan Africa, which has the lowest life expectancy today, is expected to mostly close the gap, reaching 75 years of age.
Wealth is also expected to increase nearly across the board, with the biggest gains coming from places like Vietnam, Nigeria, and the Philippines. Some experts are projecting the world economy as a whole to double in size by 2050.
There are always bumps along the way, but it appears that the journey to the upper-right quadrant is still very much underway.
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