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Visualizing Unequal State Tax Burdens Across America



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

4South Dakota11.2%8.4%2.5%
16New Hampshire9.1%7.1%3.0%
17North Dakota10.3%7.7%4.5%
19New Mexico10.6%10.0%6.0%
31North Carolina9.5%9.1%6.4%
32Rhode Island12.1%9.3%7.9%
37West Virginia9.4%8.8%7.4%
39South Carolina8.3%8.3%6.8%
44New York11.4%12.5%11.3%
46New Jersey8.7%10.2%9.8%
50District of Columbia6.3%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.

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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Visualizing $97 Trillion of Global Debt in 2023

Global debt has soared since the pandemic. Which countries have the biggest stockpile of debt outstanding in 2023?



Visualizing $97 Trillion of Government Debt in 2023

Global government debt is projected to hit $97.1 trillion this year, a 40% increase since 2019.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments introduced sweeping financial measures to support the job market and prevent a wave of bankruptcies. However, this has exposed vulnerabilities as higher interest rates are amplifying borrowing costs.

This graphic shows global debt by country in 2023, based on projections from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Debt by Country in 2023

Below, we rank countries by their general government gross debt, or the financial liabilities owed by each country:

CountryGross Debt (B)% of World TotalDebt to GDP
🇺🇸 U.S.$33,228.934.2%123.3%
🇨🇳 China$14,691.715.1%83.0%
🇯🇵 Japan$10,797.211.1%255.2%
🇬🇧 UK$3,468.73.6%104.1%
🇫🇷 France$3,353.93.5%110.0%
🇮🇹 Italy$3,141.43.2%143.7%
🇮🇳 India$3,056.73.1%81.9%
🇩🇪 Germany$2,919.33.0%65.9%
🇨🇦 Canada$2,253.32.3%106.4%
🇧🇷 Brazil$1,873.71.9%88.1%
🇪🇸 Spain$1,697.51.7%107.3%
🇲🇽 Mexico$954.61.0%52.7%
🇰🇷 South Korea$928.11.0%54.3%
🇦🇺 Australia$875.90.9%51.9%
🇸🇬 Singapore$835.00.9%167.9%
🇧🇪 Belgium$665.20.7%106.0%
🇦🇷 Argentina$556.50.6%89.5%
🇮🇩 Indonesia$552.80.6%39.0%
🇳🇱 Netherlands$540.90.6%49.5%
🇵🇱 Poland$419.40.4%49.8%
🇬🇷 Greece$407.20.4%168.0%
🇹🇷 Türkiye$397.20.4%34.4%
🇷🇺 Russia$394.80.4%21.2%
🇦🇹 Austria$393.60.4%74.8%
🇪🇬 Egypt$369.30.4%92.7%
🇨🇭 Switzerland$357.70.4%39.5%
🇹🇭 Thailand$314.50.3%61.4%
🇮🇱 Israel$303.60.3%58.2%
🇵🇹 Portugal$299.40.3%108.3%
🇲🇾 Malaysia$288.30.3%66.9%
🇿🇦 South Africa$280.70.3%73.7%
🇵🇰 Pakistan$260.90.3%76.6%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$257.70.3%24.1%
🇮🇪 Ireland$251.70.3%42.7%
🇵🇭 Philippines$250.90.3%57.6%
🇫🇮 Finland$225.00.2%73.6%
🇳🇴 Norway$204.50.2%37.4%
🇨🇴 Colombia$200.10.2%55.0%
🇹🇼 Taiwan$200.00.2%26.6%
🇸🇪 Sweden$192.90.2%32.3%
🇷🇴 Romania$178.70.2%51.0%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh$175.90.2%39.4%
🇺🇦 Ukraine$152.80.2%88.1%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic$152.20.2%45.4%
🇳🇬 Nigeria$151.30.2%38.8%
🇦🇪 UAE$149.70.2%29.4%
🇻🇳 Vietnam$147.30.2%34.0%
🇭🇺 Hungary$140.00.1%68.7%
🇨🇱 Chile$132.20.1%38.4%
🇩🇰 Denmark$126.70.1%30.1%
🇮🇶 Iraq$125.50.1%49.2%
🇩🇿 Algeria$123.50.1%55.1%
🇳🇿 New Zealand$115.00.1%46.1%
🇮🇷 Iran$112.10.1%30.6%
🇲🇦 Morocco$102.70.1%69.7%
🇶🇦 Qatar$97.50.1%41.4%
🇵🇪 Peru$89.70.1%33.9%
🇦🇴 Angola$79.60.1%84.9%
🇰🇪 Kenya$79.10.1%70.2%
🇸🇰 Slovakia$75.40.1%56.7%
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$72.10.1%59.8%
🇪🇨 Ecuador$65.90.1%55.5%
🇸🇩 Sudan$65.50.1%256.0%
🇬🇭 Ghana$65.10.1%84.9%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan$60.70.1%23.4%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia$59.00.1%37.9%
🇧🇭 Bahrain$54.50.1%121.2%
🇨🇷 Costa Rica$53.90.1%63.0%
🇭🇷 Croatia$51.20.1%63.8%
🇺🇾 Uruguay$47.00.0%61.6%
🇯🇴 Jordan$46.90.0%93.8%
🇸🇮 Slovenia$46.80.0%68.5%
🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire$45.10.0%56.8%
🇵🇦 Panama$43.50.0%52.8%
🇲🇲 Myanmar$43.00.0%57.5%
🇴🇲 Oman$41.40.0%38.2%
🇹🇳 Tunisia$39.90.0%77.8%
🇷🇸 Serbia$38.50.0%51.3%
🇧🇴 Bolivia$37.80.0%80.8%
🇹🇿 Tanzania$35.80.0%42.6%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan$31.70.0%35.1%
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe$30.90.0%95.4%
🇧🇾 Belarus$30.40.0%44.1%
🇬🇹 Guatemala$29.10.0%28.3%
🇱🇹 Lithuania$28.70.0%36.1%
🇸🇻 El Salvador$25.80.0%73.0%
🇺🇬 Uganda$25.30.0%48.3%
🇸🇳 Senegal$25.20.0%81.0%
🇨🇾 Cyprus$25.20.0%78.6%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$24.60.0%27.6%
🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR$23.50.0%6.1%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria$21.70.0%21.0%
🇨🇲 Cameroon$20.60.0%41.9%
🇲🇿 Mozambique$19.70.0%89.7%
🇵🇷 Puerto Rico$19.60.0%16.7%
🇳🇵 Nepal$19.30.0%46.7%
🇱🇻 Latvia$18.90.0%40.6%
🇮🇸 Iceland$18.70.0%61.2%
🇵🇾 Paraguay$18.10.0%40.9%
🇱🇦 Lao P.D.R.$17.30.0%121.7%
🇭🇳 Honduras$15.70.0%46.3%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea$15.70.0%49.5%
🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago$14.60.0%52.5%
🇦🇱 Albania$14.50.0%62.9%
🇨🇬 Republic of Congo$14.10.0%97.8%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan$14.10.0%18.2%
🇾🇪 Yemen$14.00.0%66.4%
🇯🇲 Jamaica$13.60.0%72.3%
🇲🇳 Mongolia$13.10.0%69.9%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso$12.70.0%61.2%
🇬🇦 Gabon$12.50.0%64.9%
🇬🇪 Georgia$11.90.0%39.6%
🇲🇺 Mauritius$11.80.0%79.7%
🇦🇲 Armenia$11.80.0%47.9%
🇧🇸 Bahamas$11.70.0%84.2%
🇲🇱 Mali$11.00.0%51.8%
🇲🇹 Malta$11.00.0%54.1%
🇰🇭 Cambodia$10.90.0%35.3%
🇧🇯 Benin$10.60.0%53.0%
🇲🇼 Malawi$10.40.0%78.6%
🇪🇪 Estonia$9.00.0%21.6%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of Congo$9.00.0%13.3%
🇷🇼 Rwanda$8.80.0%63.3%
🇳🇦 Namibia$8.50.0%67.6%
🇲🇬 Madagascar$8.50.0%54.0%
🇳🇪 Niger$8.30.0%48.7%
🇲🇰 North Macedonia$8.20.0%51.6%
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina$7.70.0%28.6%
🇲🇻 Maldives$7.70.0%110.3%
🇬🇳 Guinea$7.30.0%31.6%
🇳🇮 Nicaragua$7.20.0%41.5%
🇧🇧 Barbados$7.20.0%115.0%
🇹🇬 Togo$6.10.0%67.2%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyz Republic$6.00.0%47.0%
🇲🇩 Moldova$5.60.0%35.1%
🇹🇩 Chad$5.40.0%43.2%
🇰🇼 Kuwait$5.40.0%3.4%
🇲🇷 Mauritania$5.10.0%49.5%
🇭🇹 Haiti$5.10.0%19.6%
🇬🇾 Guyana$4.90.0%29.9%
🇲🇪 Montenegro$4.60.0%65.8%
🇫🇯 Fiji$4.60.0%83.6%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan$4.20.0%5.1%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan$4.00.0%33.5%
🇧🇼 Botswana$3.90.0%18.7%
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea$3.80.0%38.3%
🇸🇷 Suriname$3.80.0%107.0%
🇸🇸 South Sudan$3.80.0%60.4%
🇧🇹 Bhutan$3.30.0%123.4%
🇦🇼 Aruba$3.20.0%82.9%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone$3.10.0%88.9%
🇨🇻 Cabo Verde$2.90.0%113.1%
🇧🇮 Burundi$2.30.0%72.7%
🇱🇷 Liberia$2.30.0%52.3%
🇽🇰 Kosovo$2.20.0%21.3%
🇸🇿 Eswatini$2.00.0%42.4%
🇧🇿 Belize$1.90.0%59.3%
🇱🇨 Saint Lucia$1.80.0%74.2%
🇬🇲 Gambia$1.70.0%72.3%
🇩🇯 Djibouti$1.60.0%41.8%
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda$1.60.0%80.5%
🇸🇲 San Marino$1.50.0%74.0%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau$1.50.0%73.9%
🇱🇸 Lesotho$1.50.0%61.3%
🇦🇩 Andorra$1.40.0%37.7%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic$1.40.0%50.1%
🇸🇨 Seychelles$1.30.0%60.8%
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines$0.90.0%86.2%
🇬🇩 Grenada$0.80.0%60.2%
🇩🇲 Dominica$0.70.0%93.9%
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis$0.60.0%53.2%
🇻🇺 Vanuatu$0.50.0%46.8%
🇰🇲 Comoros$0.50.0%33.3%
🇸🇹 São Tomé and Príncipe$0.40.0%58.5%
🇸🇧 Solomon Islands$0.40.0%22.2%
🇧🇳 Brunei Darussalam$0.30.0%2.3%
🇼🇸 Samoa$0.30.0%36.2%
🇹🇱 Timor-Leste$0.30.0%16.4%
🇵🇼 Palau$0.20.0%85.4%
🇹🇴 Tonga$0.20.0%41.1%
🇫🇲 Micronesia$0.10.0%12.5%
🇲🇭 Marshall Islands$0.10.0%18.1%
🇳🇷 Nauru<$0.10.0%29.1%
🇰🇮 Kiribati<$0.10.0%13.1%
🇹🇻 Tuvalu<$0.10.0%8.0%
🇲🇴 Macao SAR<$0.10.0%0.0%
🌐 World$97,129.8100%93.0%

With $33.2 trillion in government debt, the U.S. makes up over a third of the world total.

Given the increasing debt load, the cost of servicing this debt now accounts for 20% of government spending. It is projected to reach $1 trillion by 2028, surpassing the total spent on defense.

The world’s third-biggest economy, Japan, has one of the highest debt to GDP ratios, at 255%. Over the last two decades, its national debt has far exceeded 100% of its GDP, driven by an aging population and social security expenses.

In 2023, Egypt faces steep borrowing costs, with 40% of revenues going towards debt repayments. It has the highest debt on the continent.

Like Egypt, several emerging economies are facing strain. Lebanon has been in default since 2020, and Ghana defaulted on the majority of its external debt—debt owed to foreign lenders—in 2022 amid a deepening economic crisis.

Global Debt: A Regional Perspective

How does debt compare on a regional level in 2023?

RegionGross Debt (B)% of World TotalDebt to GDP
North America$36,451.837.5%117.6%
Asia and Pacific$34,257.435.3%92.5%
South America$3,164.93.3%77.2%
Africa $1,863.61.9%65.2%
Other/Rest of World$1,269.11.3%31.4%

We can see that North America has both the highest debt and debt to GDP compared to other regions. Just as U.S. debt has ballooned, so has Canada’s—ranking as the 10th-highest globally in government debt outstanding.

Across Asia and the Pacific, debt levels hover close to North America.

At 3.3% of the global total, South America has $3.2 trillion in debt. As inflation has trended downwards, a handful of governments have already begun cutting interest rates. Overall, public debt levels are projected to stay elevated across the region.

Debt levels have also risen rapidly in Africa, with an average 40% of public debt held in foreign currencies—leaving it exposed to exchange rate fluctuations. Another challenge is that interest rates are also higher across the region compared to advanced economies, increasing debt-servicing costs.

By 2028, the IMF projects that global public debt will exceed 100% of GDP, hitting levels only seen during the pandemic.

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