The 53% Myth: Working Poor Pay More Of Their Income In State And Local Taxes Than The Rich In 49 States

In response to the growing 99 Percent movement that has tapped into the energy of Occupy Wall Street to unleash nationwide protests against economic inequality, a smattering of right-wing bloggers led by Erick Erickson and Josh Trevino along with conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson have created a new tumblr about the “53 percent.”

The tumblr features various people explaining their economic circumstances and often boasting of being self-made and not needing help from anyone. The flippant disclaimer for the tumblr explains that the 53 percent number was chosen because the site’s originators believe that this is the percentage of Americans that pay taxes:

So, like, when you’re, like, community organizing for solidarity and stuff, it’s totally cool to have this little hashtaggy thingy when you’re on twitter, so other people, like, totally know what you’re talking about and stuff. So if you’re, like, totally gonna spread the word about being one of the 53% of people who actually, like, pay taxes in America and don’t just, like, hang out protesting stuff all day… like, here’s the hashtaggy thingy. See you at the protest! #iamthe53

But the founding principles of the tumblr and the “53 percent” meme itself is flawed. It is true that 47 percent of Americans did not pay net federal income taxes in 2009 — the number is unusually high because of the depression in incomes following the recession — but it is completely false that only 53 percent of Americans pay taxes.


For example, if you look at state and local taxes, the working poor actually pay a higher percentage of their income in these taxes in every state except for Vermont. In “Alabama, for example, low-income families (which make less than $13,000) pay 11 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while those making more than $229,000 pay just 4 percent.”

And it is worth noting that Americans who are too poor to be asked to pay net federal income taxes are not a good target for those complaining that some aren’t paying their fair share. If there’s one group of Americans that is paying less and less as the median American family is asked to pay more, it’s the super-wealthy. As this chart from Wealth for the Common Good shows, the top 400 taxpayers — who have more wealth than half of all Americans combined — are paying lower taxes than they have in a generation, as their tax responsibilities have slowly collapsed since the New Deal era as working families have been asked to pay more and more:

Rather than taking aim at some of the poorest members of our society — 62 percent of whom have incomes under $20,000 — Americans should be asking how we can get the super-wealthy to pay tax rates closer to their modern historical average and how we can lift up the incomes of those who are too impoverished to be asked to pay federal income taxes.