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Taxes lowest since 1950?

Americans are paying less in federal taxes than they did under Bush, and taxes are taking the smallest share of GDP since Truman was president.

By Teresa Mears Feb 7, 2011 4:02PM

This article is by Stephen Ohlemacher of The Associated Press.

Taxes too high?


Actually, as a share of the nation's economy, Uncle Sam's take this year will be the lowest since 1950, when the Korean War was just getting under way.


And for the third straight year, American families and businesses will pay less in federal taxes than they did under former President George W. Bush, thanks to a weak economy and a growing number of tax breaks for the wealthy and poor alike.


Income tax payments this year will be nearly 13% lower than they were in 2008, the last full year of the Bush presidency. Corporate taxes will be lower by a third, according to projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.


The poor economy is largely to blame, with corporate profits down and unemployment up. But so is a tax code that grows each year with new deductions, credits and exemptions. The result is that families making as much as $50,000 can avoid paying federal income taxes, if they have at least two dependent children. Low-income families can actually make a profit from the income tax, and the wealthy can significantly cut their payments.


"The current state of the tax code is simply indefensible," says Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "It is hemorrhaging revenue."


In the next few years, many can expect to pay more in taxes. Some increases were enacted as part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. And many states have raised taxes because -- unlike the federal government -- they have to balance their budgets each year. State tax receipts are projected to increase in all but seven states this year, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.


But in the third year of Obama's presidency, federal taxes are at historic lows. Tax receipts dropped sharply in 2009 as the economy sank into recession. They have since stabilized and are expected to grow by 3% this year. But federal tax revenues won't rebound to pre-recession levels until next year, according to CBO projections.


In the current budget year, federal tax receipts will be equal to 14.8% of the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, the lowest level since Harry Truman was president. In Bush's last year in office, tax receipts were 17.5% of GDP, just below their 40-year average.


The lack of revenue, combined with big increases in spending, means the federal government will have to borrow 40 cents for every dollar it spends this year. The annual federal budget deficit is projected to reach a record $1.5 trillion.


Lawmakers from both political parties vow to tackle the nation's financial problems.


Republicans in Congress promise big spending cuts, and Obama says he wants to reshape corporate taxes, closing loopholes to pay for lower overall rates. Few in Washington, however, are calling for big tax increases, at least in the short term.


"America's tax system is clearly broken," Donald Marron, a former economic adviser to Bush, told the Senate Budget Committee at a recent hearing. "It fails at its most basic task, which, lest we forget, is raising enough money to pay for the federal government."


At the request of The Associated Press, The Tax Institute at H&R Block compared 2008 and 2010 tax bills for families at various income levels, showing how their taxes have changed since Obama took office. Taxpayers are filing their 2010 tax returns this spring, while 2008 was the last full year that Bush was president. The scenarios assume that each family had the same income, filing status and number of dependent children in both years.


Income tax rates remain unchanged. But many taxpayers are seeing their bills drop under Obama because of more generous tax credits for college students, working families, homebuyers and the working poor. Many of the changes were enacted as part of the big economic stimulus package passed in 2009.


Congress also extended Bush-era tax cuts through 2012. Lawmakers let Obama's Making Work Pay tax credit expire at the end of 2010, but they replaced it with a one-year cut in Social Security payroll taxes that is already showing up in workers' paychecks.


Paying more or less?

  • A married couple with two young children and a combined income of $25,000 will pay no federal income taxes for 2010. Instead, they'll get a payment of $7,085 -- up from $6,700 in 2008. The larger payment comes mainly from a more generous Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides subsidies to the working poor. They will also get a $1,000-per-child tax credit. The example illustrates how complicated tax returns can be, even for low-income families, said Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.
  • A married couple with two children, including one in college, and a combined income of $50,000 would pay no federal income taxes, instead getting a payment of $734 from the government this year. However, they did better in 2008 when they netted a $1,234 payment from the government. That's because Obama's Making Work Pay credit was worth less to them than the Bush-era economic stimulus payment they received in 2008.
  • A single person making $50,000 while paying interest on a student loan would have a 2010 tax bill of $5,325 -- a $63 decrease from 2008. The difference is due to an inflation-based increase in the standard deduction and personal exemption.
  • A married couple with two children, including one in college, with some modest investments and a combined income of $200,000 will see their federal income tax bill drop by $780, to $28,496. Their tax bill is lower than in 2008 largely because itemized deductions are no longer limited for high-income families.
  • A rich couple with two kids in college, larger investments and a combined income of $1 million will see their taxes drop by $6,740, to $277,699 in 2010. Their tax bill is lower than in 2008 because they were able to defer a larger portion of their income to retirement accounts, and because itemized deductions are no longer limited for high-income families.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Feb 7, 2011 6:22PM

** Low-income families can actually make a profit from the income tax, **  Let's all scream *SOCIALISM*.


How do you get an Income Tax REFUND when you didn't pay any income taxes to begin with?  You still used gov'ment services......roads, schools, parks, public should help pay the bill.

When you are 20 years old with four children, living on welfare, food stamps, gov'ment housing, medicare, and your kids get a free breakfast and lunch at don't deserve an INCOME TAX REFUND......because you are *in the red* before you even get started.  The total dollar amount of all those *free gov'ment hand-ups* should get deducted from any REFUND that anyone is getting from their paid income taxes.


Suprise....America is bankrupt.....and here is one reason.....people getting refunds for money they never paid out in the first place.  America needs a FLAT TAX....with NO deductions for any exception.

*You were paid X amount  for working last year.....we have kept 4% of that total in the form of paycheck deductions.  Thank you for being an American.  Have a nice day.*

Feb 7, 2011 7:39PM
Are we speaking of the tax rates or of tax revenue?  I suspect the main reason for less tax $ is that the economy is depressed and many people are either un-employed or earning less; therefore, spending less and paying less in taxes
Feb 7, 2011 6:01PM

Specialty taxes targeted at specific products or services is complete BS for starters. Why should person #1 who's work uses more of one type of item get stuck paying higher sales taxes when #2 person's work uses large amounts of some other item which is taxed at a lower rate?  That's crap. Gov'ment services like roads and public utilities do not cost more for person #1 to use; versus person #2, so why whould they pay different sales taxes?


The store where I work has a big problem with people stealing alcohol, given the current prices, taxes, and laws which govern what times of day and what days that we are able to sale alcohol.

Increase taxes on booze and even more people will be tempted to try and steal it.  I believe purse snatching, charity donation bucket theft and vending machine vandalism......all in effort to get some free money to buy booze......would all see an increase in activity.

Feb 8, 2011 11:52AM
To make a comparison to 1950 the article needs to look at TOTAL tax burden including state and local taxes.  Gut says that we are paying more total tax, but I have not seen a credible analysis of the total tax burden.
Feb 7, 2011 6:59PM

Gee, if the poor are making a profit and the wealthy are substantially reducing their payments, then that just leaves the middle class holding the bag..............


The Tax Code is a joke, but I can't even imagine how long it will take Congress to agree on those changes:


Democrats: Tax the rich, sell debt to China and give to the poor

Republicans: Don't tax at all, sell debt to China and give to the wealthy


The middle class gets the Shaft while the rest of America gets the GOLD.

Feb 7, 2011 5:32PM

Health insurance payments should be considered taxes under Obama since they are now mandatory (unless SCOTUS does the right thing and declares the law unconstitutional).

Feb 8, 2011 11:33AM
Rusty why should i have to pay more than you when you seem so much smarter i would be more then happy if we both paid $ 100,000.00 a year in taxes and called it even. How about that flat tax now will see whos whinning
Feb 17, 2011 10:59PM

With the Feds articulating we are broke, it seems appropriate that everyone wants to get theirs ASA  friggin P!

Like the market crash years ago. It's my money!!!!!  and I want it now!!!!!!!!!!!

Feb 7, 2011 9:07PM
What is this, some sort of liberal propaganda piece to make us feel better about the Obama tax hikes coming?

Personal income tax rates will rise.  The top income tax rate will rise from 35 to 39.6 percent (this is also the rate at which two-thirds of small business profits are taxed).  The lowest rate will rise from 10 to 15 percent.  All the rates in between will also rise.  Itemized deductions and personal exemptions will again phase out, which has the same mathematical effect as higher marginal tax rates.  The full list of marginal rate hikes is below:

- The 10% bracket rises to an expanded 15%
- The 25% bracket rises to 28%
- The 28% bracket rises to 31%
- The 33% bracket rises to 36%
- The 35% bracket rises to 39.6%

Higher taxes on marriage and family.  The “marriage penalty” (narrower tax brackets for married couples) will return from the first dollar of income.  The child tax credit will be cut in half from $1000 to $500 per child.  The standard deduction will no longer be doubled for married couples relative to the single level.  The dependent care and adoption tax credits will be cut.

The return of the Death Tax.  This year, there is no death tax.  For those dying on or after January 1 2011, there is a 55 percent top death tax rate on estates over $1 million.  A person leaving behind two homes and a retirement account could easily pass along a death tax bill to their loved ones.

Higher tax rates on savers and investors.  The capital gains tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 20 percent in 2011.  The dividends tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 39.6 percent in 2011.  These rates will rise another 3.8 percent in 2013.

Feb 9, 2011 7:43AM
This is GREAT NEWS! Now the tea partiers can shut up! If they don't, maybe democrats can select one of the tea partiers favorite loopholes, such as the oil depletion allowance, or the Price-Anderson act, ( which limits nuclear power liability to $10 billion, no matter the damages in a nuclear accident), or unlimited deductions for losses in horse racing, and introduce a bill to end it. Then tea partiers and the GOP would have to show their bias toward the rich!
Feb 7, 2011 9:49PM
The law states that only a profit or a gain can be taxed in the "income tax". A salary or an hourly wage cant be considered a profit or a gain because you are trading your time for that wage. It is a straight across trade.
Feb 7, 2011 9:56PM
Tell me something I didn't know.   In 2005 Bush raised my taxes 5% and gave the megarich a tax break that they used as a no liability adventure into outsourcing to foreign countries, costing so many American jobs.  For 4 years I paid this higher tax because of Dubya and his misguided attempt at reaganomics that has not worked ever in the last 30 years.  My 2009 tax under Mr. Obama had a tax break that saved me $1,400 and I am very very grateful for that, made up in a small way for dubya's stupidity.  The conservative republicans and many of them felt that same tax increase don't mind as long as it's a republican doing the screwing of them, while the rich just keep getting richer and they care less if there are jobs.   Eventually, their products won't be bought by the middle class just because there is no money for frills in a two worker family now.  This caused the collapse of everything under ole dubya who didn't care, his friends were the megarich anyway.  Now the country is making some very small headway on the long road back, but Obama isn't the savior we were looking for either, he's afraid of the conservative house and the elite megarich.   Simple solution, put my taxes back to 2004 levels and the megarich back to their 2004 levels and then go forward again from there.   That's fair enough for all concerned.   Hasn't been another tax increase or another tax break since that date, so it's a simple solution. 
Feb 7, 2011 8:34PM
That's bull$hit I just had my taxes done and I paid 47% yes that's right 47% and yes i live in the U.S.A who is paying less i would like to know sure isn't small business
Feb 8, 2011 4:41AM
The only bigger whiners about taxes than big business are small business owners.
Feb 8, 2011 11:28AM
Rusty maybe if people like you worked harder we wouldnt have to out source
Feb 7, 2011 7:03PM
low income families shouldn't pay tax... after takes a whole lot of pay check to pay check families to make the rich shouldn't be so hard on someone who's willing to do that for you
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