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Visualizing Unequal State Tax Burdens Across America

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Unequal U.S. State Tax Burdens

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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.

Taxes Included
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.

Income Included
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

RANKSTATELOWEST 20%MIDDLE 60%TOP 1%
1Washington17.8%10.4%3.0%
2Texas13.0%9.4%3.1%
3Florida12.7%7.7%2.3%
4South Dakota11.2%8.4%2.5%
5Nevada10.2%7.1%1.9%
6Tennessee10.5%8.1%2.8%
7Pennsylvania13.8%10.8%6.0%
8Illinois14.4%12.2%7.4%
9Oklahoma13.2%10.3%6.2%
10Wyoming9.6%6.9%2.6%
11Arizona13.0%9.3%5.9%
12Indiana12.8%10.4%6.8%
13Ohio12.3%10.6%6.5%
14Louisiana11.9%9.8%6.2%
15Hawaii15.0%11.5%8.9%
16New Hampshire9.1%7.1%3.0%
17North Dakota10.3%7.7%4.5%
18Alabama9.9%8.6%5.0%
19New Mexico10.6%10.0%6.0%
20Arkansas11.3%10.4%6.9%
21Iowa12.4%10.5%7.7%
22Michigan10.4%9.2%6.2%
23Kansas11.4%10.4%7.4%
24Mississippi10.2%9.8%6.7%
25Kentucky9.5%10.5%6.7%
26Alaska7.0%4.3%2.5%
27Georgia10.7%9.5%7.0%
28Missouri9.9%9.1%6.2%
29Connecticut11.5%11.6%8.1%
30Massachusetts10.0%9.3%6.5%
31North Carolina9.5%9.1%6.4%
32Rhode Island12.1%9.3%7.9%
33Virginia9.8%9.3%7.0%
34Wisconsin10.1%10.4%7.7%
35Colorado8.7%8.6%6.5%
36Nebraska11.1%10.2%8.7%
37West Virginia9.4%8.8%7.4%
38Idaho9.2%8.4%7.2%
39South Carolina8.3%8.3%6.8%
40Utah7.5%8.4%6.7%
41Oregon10.1%8.8%8.1%
42Maryland9.8%10.6%9.0%
43Montana7.9%6.7%6.5%
44New York11.4%12.5%11.3%
45Maine8.7%9.3%8.6%
46New Jersey8.7%10.2%9.8%
47Minnesota8.7%9.8%10.1%
48Delaware5.5%5.8%6.5%
49Vermont8.7%9.4%10.4%
50District of Columbia6.3%9.8%9.5%
51California10.5%8.9%12.4%

* 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.

effective us state and local tax rates

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.

Property Taxes

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.

Income Taxes

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.

equality and personal income tax

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.

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Markets

Mapped: GDP per Capita Worldwide

GDP per capita is one of the best measures of a country’s standard of living. This map showcases the GDP per capita in every country globally.

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gdp per capita

Mapped: Visualizing GDP per Capita Worldwide

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

GDP per capita has steadily risen globally over time, and in tandem, the standard of living worldwide has increased immensely.

This map using data from the IMF shows the GDP per capita (nominal) of nearly every country and territory in the world.

GDP per capita is one of the best measures of a country’s wealth as it provides an understanding of how each country’s citizens live on average, showing a representation of the quantity of goods and services created per person.

The Standard of Living Over Time

Looking at history, our standard of living has increased drastically. According to Our World in Data, from 1820 to 2018, the average global GDP per capita increased by almost 15x.

Literacy rates, access to vaccines, and basic education have also improved our quality of life, while things like child mortality rates and poverty have all decreased.

For example, in 1990, 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty, which was 36% of the world’s population at the time. Over the last 30 years, the number has been steadily decreasing — by 2030, an estimated 479 million people will be living in extreme poverty, which according to UN population estimates, will represent only 6% of the population.

That said, economic inequality between different regions is still prevalent. In fact, the richest country today (in terms of nominal GDP per capita), Luxembourg, is over 471x more wealthy than the poorest, Burundi.

Here’s a look at the 10 countries with the highest GDP per capita in 2021:

gdp per capita top 10 countries

However, not all citizens in Luxembourg are extremely wealthy. In fact:

  • 29% of people spend over 40% of their income on housing costs
  • 31% would be at risk of falling into poverty if they had to forgo 3 months of income

The cost of living is expensive in Luxembourg — but the standard of living in terms of goods and services produced is the highest in the world. Additionally, only 4% of the population reports low life satisfaction.

Emerging Economies and Developing Countries

Although we have never lived in a more prosperous period, and poverty rates have been declining overall, this year global extreme poverty rose for the first time in over two decades.

About 120 million additional people are living in poverty as a result of the pandemic, with the total expected to rise to about 150 million by the end of 2021.

Many of the poorest countries in the world are also considered Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by the UN. In these countries, more than 75% of the population live below the poverty line.

Here’s a look at the 10 countries with the lowest GDP per capita:

gdp per capita bottom 10 countries

Life in these countries offers a stark contrast compared to the top 10. Here’s a glance at the quality of life in the poorest country, Burundi:

  • 80% of the population works in agriculture
  • 1 in 3 Burundians are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance
  • Average households spend up to two-thirds of their income on food

However, many of the world’s poorest countries can also be classified as emerging markets with immense economic potential in the future.

In fact, China has seen the opportunity in emerging economies. Their confidence in these regions is best exemplified in the Belt and Road initiative which has funneled massive investments into infrastructure projects across multiple African countries.

Continually Raising the Bar

Prosperity is a very recent reality only characterizing the last couple hundred years. In pre-modern societies, the average person was living in conditions that would be considered extreme poverty by today’s standards.

Overall, the standard of living for everyone today is immensely improved compared to even recent history, and some countries will be experiencing rapid economic growth in the future.

GDP per Capita in 2021: Full Dataset

CountryGDP per Capita (Nominal, 2021, USD)
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$125,923
🇮🇪 Ireland$90,478
🇨🇭 Switzerland$90,358
🇳🇴 Norway$76,408
🇺🇸 United States$66,144
🇩🇰 Denmark$63,645
🇸🇬 Singapore$62,113
🇮🇸 Iceland$58,371
🇳🇱 Netherlands$58,029
🇸🇪 Sweden$57,660
Australia$57,211
Qatar$55,417
Austria$54,820
Finland$54,817
Germany$51,967
Belgium$50,051
Macao SAR$48,207
Hong Kong SAR$47,990
Canada$45,871
France$44,770
San Marino$44,676
Israel$43,439
United Kingdom$42,236
New Zealand$41,793
Japan$40,733
Italy$35,062
United Arab Emirates$32,686
South Korea$32,305
Malta$32,099
The Bahamas$31,532
Puerto Rico$31,207
Spain$31,178
Europe$31,022
Cyprus$29,686
Taiwan $28,890
Slovenia$28,734
Estonia$26,378
Brunei $26,274
Czech Republic$25,991
Portugal$25,097
Bahrain$23,710
Kuwait$23,138
Lithuania$22,752
Aruba$22,710
Slovakia$21,606
Saudi Arabia$20,742
Greece$20,521
Latvia$19,934
Hungary$17,645
Barbados$17,472
Poland$16,740
Trinidad and Tobago$16,622
Saint Kitts and Nevis$16,491
Croatia$16,402
Uruguay$16,297
Romania$14,916
Antigua and Barbuda$14,748
Oman$14,675
Panama$14,390
Chile$14,209
Maldives$14,194
Palau$13,180
Seychelles$12,648
Costa Rica$11,805
China$11,713
Malaysia$11,378
Bulgaria$11,349
Russia$10,793
Saint Lucia$10,636
Grenada$10,211
Guyana$9,913
Nauru$9,865
Mauritius$9,630
Kazakhstan$9,454
Montenegro$9,152
Argentina$9,095
Turkmenistan$8,874
Serbia$8,444
Mexico$8,403
Dominica$8,111
Equatorial Guinea$8,000
Gabon$7,785
Dominican Republic$7,740
Thailand$7,675
Iran$7,668
Turkey$7,659
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines$7,401
Botswana$7,036
North Macedonia $6,933
Brazil$6,728
Bosnia and Herzegovina$6,536
Belarus$6,513
Peru$6,229
Jamaica$5,643
Ecuador$5,589
Colombia$5,457
South Africa$5,236
Paraguay$5,207
Albania$5,161
Tonga$4,949
Suriname$4,921
Fiji$4,822
Iraq$4,767
Kosovo$4,753
Libya$4,733
Georgia$4,714
Moldova$4,527
Armenia$4,427
Namibia$4,412
Azerbaijan$4,404
Guatemala$4,385
Jordan$4,347
Tuvalu$4,296
Indonesia$4,287
Mongolia$4,139
Marshall Islands$4,092
Samoa$4,053
El Salvador$4,023
Micronesia$3,995
Belize$3,968
Sri Lanka$3,928
Vietnam$3,759
Eswatini$3,697
Cabo Verde$3,675
Bolivia$3,618
Ukraine$3,615
Egypt$3,606
Philippines$3,602
North Africa$3,560
Algeria$3,449
Bhutan$3,447
Morocco$3,409
Tunisia$3,380
Djibouti$3,275
West Bank and Gaza$3,060
Vanuatu$2,967
Laos$2,614
Papua New Guinea$2,596
Honduras$2,593
Côte d'Ivoire$2,571
Solomon Islands$2,501
Ghana$2,300
Republic of Congo$2,271
Nigeria$2,209
São Tomé and Príncipe$2,133
Angola$2,130
Kenya$2,122
India$2,031
Bangladesh$1,990
Uzbekistan$1,836
Nicaragua$1,828
Kiribati$1,817
Mauritania$1,782
Cambodia$1,680
Cameroon$1,657
Senegal$1,629
Venezuela$1,586
Myanmar$1,441
Comoros$1,431
Benin$1,400
Timor-Leste$1,273
Kyrgyzstan$1,270
Nepal$1,166
Tanzania$1,132
Guinea$1,067
Lesotho$1,018
Zambia$1,006
Mali$992
Uganda$971
Ethiopia$918
Tajikistan$851
Burkina Faso$851
Guinea-Bissau$844
Rwanda$820
The Gambia$809
Togo$759
Sudan$714
Chad$710
Haiti$698
Liberia$646
Eritrea$632
Yemen$573
Niger$567
Madagascar$554
Central African Republic$522
Zimbabwe$516
Afghanistan$506
Democratic Republic of the Congo$478
Sierra Leone$471
Mozambique$431
Malawi$397
South Sudan$323
Burundi$267

Editor’s note: Readers have rightly pointed out that Monaco is one of the world’s richest countries in GDP per capita (nominal) terms. This is true, but the IMF dataset excludes Monaco and lists it as “No data” each year. As a result, it is excluded from the visualization(s) above.

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Misc

Visualized: The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

Learn the stories behind some of the world’s biggest Ponzi schemes in this illustrative infographic timeline.

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The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

Some things simply sound too good to be true, but when money is involved, our judgement can become clouded.

This is often the case with Ponzi schemes, a type of financial fraud that lures investors by promising abnormally high returns. Money brought in by new members is used to pay the scheme’s founders, as well as its earlier investors.

The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, an Italian who became infamous in the 1920s for claiming he could double his clients’ money within 90 days. Since then, numerous Ponzi schemes have been orchestrated around the globe.

To help you learn more about these sophisticated crimes, this infographic examines some of the biggest Ponzi schemes in modern history.

Ponzi Schemes in the 20th Century

The 1990s saw a number of large Ponzi schemes worth upwards of $500 million.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
Belgium1991Moneytron, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem$860M
Romania1994Caritas, Ioan Stoica$1B - $5B
Russia1994MMM, Sergei Mavrodi$10B
U.S.1997Great Ministries International, Geral Payne$500M

In many cases, these schemes thrived by taking advantage of the unsuspecting public who often lacked any knowledge of investing. Caritas, for example, was a Ponzi scheme based in Romania that marketed itself as a “self-help game” for the poor.

The scheme was initially very successful, tricking millions of people into making deposits by offering the chance to earn an 800% return after three months. This was not sustainable, and Caritas was eventually unable to distribute further winnings.

Caritas operated for only two years, but its “success” was undeniable. In 1993, it was estimated that a third of the country’s money was circulating through the scheme.

Ponzi Schemes in the 21st Century

The American public has fallen victim to numerous multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes since the beginning of the 21st century.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
U.S.2003Mutual Benefits Company, Joel Steinger$1B
U.S.2003Petters Group Worldwide, Tom Petters$4B
U.S.2008Madoff Investment Scandal, Bernie Madoff$65B
U.S.2012Stanford Financial Group, Allen Stanford$7B

Many of these schemes have made major headlines, but much less is said about the thousands of everyday Americans that were left in financial ruin.

For victims of the Madoff Investment Scandal, receiving any form of compensation has been a drawn-out process. In 2018, 10 years after the scheme was uncovered, a court-appointed trustee managed to recover $13 billion by liquidating Madoff’s firm and personal assets.

As NPR reported, investors may recover up to 60 to 70 percent of their initial investment only. For victims who had to delay retirement or drastically alter their lifestyles, this compensation likely provides little solace.

Do the Crime, Pay the Time

Running a Ponzi scheme is likely to land you in jail for a long time, at least in the U.S.

In 2009, for example, 71-year-old Bernie Madoff pled guilty to 11 federal felonies and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. That’s 135 years longer than the average U.S. murder conviction.

Outside of the U.S., it’s a much different story. Weaker regulation and enforcement, particularly in developing countries, means a number of schemes are ongoing today.

Sergei Mavrodi, known for running the Russian Ponzi scheme MMM, started a new organization named MMM Global after being released from prison in 2011. Although he died in March 2018, his self-described “social financial network” has established a base in several Southeast Asian and African countries.

If you or someone you know is worried about falling victim to a Ponzi scheme, this checklist from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may be a useful resource.

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