Americans Paying Historically Low Taxes

When the Tea Party movement started in 2009, some of its adherents made signs that read, "Taxed Enough Already!"—the movement defined itself in large part as a reaction against the oppressive tax policies of the federal government, sucking ordinary people dry in its endless search for cash to fund its freedom-destroying schemes. This was always an insane inversion of actual reality—the truth is that as part of the stimulus bill, President Barack Obama actually cut taxes for almost everyone, and the only tax increase he imposed in his first term was a hike in cigarette taxes. It's true that the Affordable Care Act contains a number of different tax increases (on things like "Cadillac" health plans), but those have not taken effect yet. But to many conservatives, it just feels like they're paying more taxes, because ... well, because there's a Democrat in the White House.

Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the taxes we have actually been paying, and guess what: The average federal taxes paid by Americans are at their lowest point in the last 30 years:

The overall average federal tax rates of 18.0 percent in 2008 and 17.4 percent in 2009 were the lowest in the 1979–2009 period and were well below the previous low of 19.4 percent in 2003 and the average of 21.0 percent over that period. For most income groups, the 2009 average federal tax rate also was the lowest observed in the 1979–2009 period.

Now let's look at a picture:


The results for 2008 and 2009 are partly the result of the recession—if you lose your job midway through the year, your income will be very low and your tax liability will drop. But it also reflects decades of tax-cutting. The last time we had a significant tax increase was in 1993, almost two decades ago. It's something to keep in mind when conservatives claim that all we need to unleash an economic renaissance is to cut the top income tax rate. If all you needed to create growth was low taxes, we'd be enjoying a spectacular economic boom right now.

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