Lower-income households will pay less. For example, households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will pay an average of 12.5% of their income in federal taxes. Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will pay 5.7%.
The latest IRS figures are a few years older — and limited to federal income taxes — but show much the same thing. In 2009, taxpayers who made $1 million or more paid on average 24.4% of their income in federal income taxes, according to the IRS.
Those making $100,000 to $125,000 paid on average 9.9% in federal income taxes. Those making $50,000 to $60,000 paid an average of 6.3%.
Obama's claim hinges on the fact that, for high-income families and individuals, investment income is often taxed at a lower rate than wages. The top tax rate for dividends and capital gains is 15%. The top marginal tax rate for wages is 35%, though that is reserved for taxable income above $379,150.
With tax rates that high, why do so many people pay at lower rates? Because the tax code is riddled with more than $1 trillion in deductions, exemptions and credits, and they benefit people at every income level, according to data from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress' official scorekeeper on revenue issues.
The Tax Policy Center estimates that 46% of households, mostly low- and medium-income households, will pay no federal income taxes this year. Most, however, will pay other taxes, including Social Security payroll taxes.
"People who are doing quite well and worry about low-income people not paying any taxes bemoan the fact that they get so many tax breaks that they are zeroed out," said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center. "People at the bottom of the distribution say, 'But all of those rich guys are getting bigger tax breaks than we're getting,' which is also the case."
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was pressed at a White House briefing on the number of millionaires who pay taxes at a lower rate than middle-income families. He demurred, saying that people who make most of their money in wages pay taxes at a higher rate, while those who get most of their income from investments pay at lower rates.
"So it really depends on what is your profession, where's the source of your income, what's the specific circumstances you face, and the averages won't really capture that," Geithner said.
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