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.
5 Big Picture Trends Being Accelerated by the Pandemic
In some cases, COVID-19 has sped up societal and economic trends that were already in motion. Here we examine five examples.
As every email introduction has reminded us in 2020, we’re living in “unprecedented times”.
No doubt, even after a viable vaccine is released to the general public and things begin to return to some semblance of normalcy, there will be long lasting effects on society and the economy. It’s been said that COVID-19 has hit fast forward on a number of trends, from e-commerce to workplace culture.
Today, we’ll highlight five of these accelerating trends.
#1: Screen Life Takes Hold
Smartphones have drastically altered many parts our lives – including how we spend time. In the decade from 2008 to 2018, screen time on mobile devices increased 12x.
Fast forward to today, and screen time is up across the board, with some of the most dramatic increases seen among kids and teenagers. 44% of people under the age of 18 now report four hours or more of screen time per day – up from 21% prior to the pandemic.
Gaming is another digital segment that has benefited from the pandemic. Video game revenue spiked in the springtime, and sales have remained strong going further into 2020. Companies are hoping that casual gamers won over during lockdown will continue playing once the pandemic has come to an end.
Acceleration signal: International bandwidth and internet traffic was already increasing steadily, but COVID-19 stay-at-home activity has blown away previous numbers.
Even as more workplaces and schools begin to operate normally again, it’s doubtful that screen time will drop back down to pre-COVID levels.
#2: The Big Consumer Shake-Up
The consumer economy has been innovating on two fronts: making physical buying as “frictionless” as possible, and making e-commerce as nimble as possible. COVID-19 broke old habits and sped up that evolution.
Innovations in real world shopping appear to be moving in the direction of cashierless checkouts, but in order for that model to work, people first need to embrace contactless payment methods such as mobile wallets and cards with tap payment.
So far, the pandemic has been an accelerant in moving people away from cash and pin-and-swipe credit cards in lagging markets. Once people get used to the convenience of contactless payments, it’s likely they’ll continue using those methods.
Of course, no conversation about e-commerce is complete without talking about Amazon. The company has seen consistent growth in subscription revenue in recent years, and the company’s actions have a wide-reaching effect on the rest of the industry.
Much like the gaming industry, e-commerce companies like Amazon are hoping that people who dabbled with online ordering during the pandemic months, will convert into lifelong customers.
Acceleration signal: E-commerce penetration projections have shifted upward.
In hindsight, 2020 could be an inflection point where e-commerce gained a much bigger slice of the overall retail pie.
#3: Peak Globalization
Globalization went on a tear starting from the mid-1980s until it hit a plateau during the financial crisis. Since that point, global trade as a percentage of GDP has flat-lined in the face of trade wars, and now COVID-19.
Trade was obviously impacted by the pandemic, and it’s too early to say what the long-term effects will be. One thing that is clear is that the information component of globalization is becoming an even more important piece of the world’s economic puzzle.
Even before COVID-19 took hold, the global services trade was growing 60% faster than the goods trade, and was valued at approximately $13.4 trillion in 2019.
Acceleration signal: The dip in merchandise trade looks eerily similar to the one that took place in 2008.
#4: The Wealth Chasm
On the high end of the wealth spectrum, billionaires are worth more than ever.
Meanwhile, in the broader economy, inequality has grown over the last few decades. Those in the top 50% wealth bracket have seen increasing gains, while the bottom 50% have seen stagnation.
This issue is sure to be compounded by economic turmoil brought on by COVID-19. Younger generations face the dual challenges of being more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, while also being the least likely to have savings to cover an interruption in income.
In fact, nearly half of people in the 18–24 year old age group have nothing saved at all.
The longer the economy is affected by COVID-19 measures, the more of a wedge will be driven between people who have continued working and those who are employed in impacted industries (e.g. tourism, events).
Acceleration signal: Growth in the net worth of billionaires has been largely unaffected by COVID-19.
#5: The Flexible Workplace
As of 2019, over half of companies that didn’t have a flexible or remote workplace policy cited “longstanding company policy” as the reason. In other words, that is just the way things have always worked.
Of course, the pandemic has forced many companies to rethink these policies.
This grand experiment in remote work and distributed teams will have an impact on office life as we know it, potentially reshaping the entire “office economy”. The impact is already being felt, with global commercial property investment volume falling by 48% in Q3 2020.
Acceleration signal: Thousands of people are moving out of pricy urban areas, presumably because they are able to work remotely from a cheaper location.
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How Holiday Spending Compares Around the World
This graphic illustrates some of the largest and most anticipated retail holidays by region and explores their origins.
How Holiday Spending Compares Around the World
View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.
While COVID-19 has triggered a tsunami of challenges for retailers the world over, they can take solace in knowing that retail events throughout the year can contribute to an uptick in sales.
But consumer spending for events like Back to School, Halloween, or Easter pales in comparison to what people spend between Thanksgiving and New Years—otherwise known as “the holidays”.
The graphic above explores holiday spending across the world, as well as some of the major events that contribute to it, based on MoEngage and AppFollow’s Holiday Marketing Guide.
Retail Events by Region
While Christmas is celebrated in some form across most parts of the world, U.S. consumers spend more than any other nation, with retailers raking in an estimated $1 trillion in sales in 2019.
As another major retail holiday, Black Friday originated in the U.S. but has since become a global phenomenon. In 2019, sales for the one day event reached a staggering $7.4 billion in the U.S. alone, but it was surpassed by Cyber Monday, which garnered a total of $9.4 billion in sales.
Over in India, holiday season spending in 2019 reached a total of $46 billion due to a number of events such as Amazon’s Great Indian Festival. Orders were placed during the event from over 99% of India’s postal codes, and on the busiest day, more than 600 flights delivered Amazon orders to customers.
In other parts of Asia, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day is quickly becoming a highly anticipated event attracting attention from consumers in other parts of the world. But while it recorded $38 billion in revenue in 2019, it was meager in comparison to Chinese New Year sales during the same year, which topped $149 billion—although it does not take place during the holiday months covered in this graphic.
2020 Trends Impacting Retailers
Despite many retailers banking on the success of these holiday events, they are up against some critical challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the report, consumers have become more cautious about their spending, due to economic uncertainty of their finances. In fact, personal savings rates in the U.S. reached a historic 33% in May of this year.
More Value-Conscious Buyers
It’s no surprise that consumers’ concerns about the economy and their job prospects are affecting how they spend their hard-earned cash. They are spending less on items that may be considered a luxury, and investing more on things that can add value to their lives day-to-day, like media and entertainment.
Reluctance to Shop In-Store
Tightening lockdown restrictions and social distancing have raised some questions around how much of a role brick and mortar stores will play this year for consumers. Interestingly, a study shows that 36% of shoppers now prefer shopping online, up from 28% before the pandemic.
Supply Chain Issues
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on retail supply chains, resulting in a number of issues arising such as labor shortages and transport restrictions. This has put many retailers under tremendous pressure to reimagine how they can best serve their customers.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
Holiday shopping in 2020 will be anything but typical. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are having to adjust to changing consumer behaviors to ensure they make it through to 2021 intact.
With tightening restrictions across the world, brick and mortar stores are becoming less of an option for millions of people, challenging retailers to focus efforts on their online experience.
Forrester predicts that total retail sales in North America will decline in 2020 overall, while online sales will increase by 18.5%—growth not seen since 2008.
Whether the reimagined supply chains of 2020 can keep up with more online demand is another question.
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