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20 Tax statistics (updated for 2020)

Susan Honea

Susan Honea – 8 years experience helping businesses with bookkeeping, tax preparation and auditing

Last updated: July 3, 2020

Tax deadlines are a stressful event in everyone’s calendar. Have you ever stopped to wonder how much revenue tax generates or who pays the most tax? We take a look at 20 of the most interesting tax statistics and what they mean for the US government.

20 Tax statistics (updated for 2020)

Tax day. Each year, Americans scramble to meet the deadline. In 2018, the IRS fielded $136,359,149 returns via 1040 Forms. Even though most people despise paying taxes, or are at best indifferent to it all, some tax statistics can be quite interesting!

1. Payroll tax revenue has nearly doubled since 2000

You know the taxes they withhold from your payroll? Ever wondered how much all that money adds up to? Well, your question has been answered: in 2019, payroll tax revenues amounted to $1.24 trillion, and the 2020 total is projected to be $1.31 trillion. That’s double what it was in the year 2000 ($652.9 billion). Of course, payroll taxes don’t just come from what is withheld from employee salaries. Employers have to pay an additional tax on employee income—one which does not come out of employee salaries.

payroll tax revenues

2. The average amount of a tax return has gone up since 2008—with a catch

In 2017, the average amount of a tax return was $2,899—up from $2,859 in 2008. However, if inflation is factored in (using CPI’s online inflation calculator), the buying power of the 2017 tax return is actually less than the 2008 one. Accounting for inflation, $2,859 from 2008 would be worth $3,254 in 2017. This means that while the dollar amount of the average tax return has increased, its value has not. In fact, the value of that money has decreased since then.

3. To save that refund, or to pay off debt? That is the question

In 2009, as the “Great Recession” was winding down, 48% of consumers surveyed by the National Retail Foundation planned to use their tax refunds to pay down debt, while 39% intended to save theirs. In 2020, with the COVID-19 recession looming, the tables turned, and 50% of consumers reported that they’re planning to save their refunds, with only 34% planning to pay down debt. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2021 as the economy (hopefully) begins to recover and Americans (hopefully) are freed from isolation.

4. 55% of survey respondents make less than $50,000 before taxes

In a national tracking poll conducted by Morning Consult in August 2018, 55% of respondents reported they make less than $50,000 a year before taxes, while 33% reported being in the $50,000 to $100,000 range, and 11% said they made more than $100,000. What this means depends upon where you live in the United States. Let’s say you’re a family of four bringing in exactly $50,000 a year while living in Los Angeles. Using Pew Research Center’s handy dandy calculator, you will find that you are in the lowest of three tiers economically. If you can hold onto that $50,000 a year income and move your family of four to, say, Louisville, Kentucky, you can move up to the middle tier!

5. The top 1% of US earners pay 37% of the total income taxes

Probably unsurprisingly, the top 1% of income earners in the United States paid a grand total of 37.32% of the nation’s income taxes in 2016. The top 10% paid 69.5%, and the top 50% paid 97% of the country’s total taxes on income. Given that these groups make exponentially more money, this really isn’t that shocking. Whether those top earners are paying too much or too little is a heated debate….

percentage of tax paid based on earnings

6. 58% of survey respondents believe the highest earners aren’t paying their fair share in taxes

In response to a survey conducted by the Statista Research Department asking which income groups pay “too little, too much or their fair share in taxes,” 58% of respondents replied that upper income individuals in the United States are not paying enough in taxes; Pew Research Center got the same results.

7. 79% of Democrats and 37% of Republicans believe the rich aren’t paying enough in taxes

A Pew Research Survey from 2012 indicated that 78% of Democrats and 33% of Republicans said the rich don’t pay enough in income taxes, 44% of Republicans and 13% of Democrats said the rich paid their fair share, and a mere 14% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats said the rich pay too much in taxes. Fast forward to 2019, when 79% of Democrats expressed the belief that some wealthy don’t pay their fair share, as opposed to 37% of Republicans. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

8. Still, Americans believe good citizens pay their taxes

Or 71% of them think so anyway, a Pew survey found in 2018. Specifically, Americans expect you to pay “all the taxes you owe.” However, voting in elections took the top prize in the good citizenship stakes at 74% in the survey, while obeying the law came in third at 69%. Given the grumbling we hear around tax time, it was surprising to see paying taxes in the top three!

9. Tobacco tax revenues spiked in 2009 and again in 2010

Revenue generated from taxes on tobacco production and sales increased dramatically in 2009, from $7.64 billion in 2008 to a whopping $12.841 billion in 2009 (nearly doubling!). In 2010, the amount increased again to $17.16 billion—an increase of 224%. An unprecedented increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes in 2009—with states following suit—led to an overall increase in taxes on cigarettes to $2.21 per pack. Currently, the U.S. median for tobacco tax is about $1.70 per pack, but advocacy organizations think it should be even higher.

tobacco tax revenues

10. Taxes on alcohol generate almost $10 billion in revenue annually

Yep, you read that right. Revenue from taxes on alcohol generated $9.99 billion in 2019. That pays for almost half of the budget of NASA ($22.6 billion). It’s not as much revenue as tobacco taxes (as mentioned above), but it’s still a ton of money. What’s more, though revenues have risen by over one billion dollars since 2000, the growth rate has been relatively slow, and the federal excise tax applied to alcohol represents only a fraction of the GDP.

alcohol tax revenues

11. Tax revenue on telephones has fallen to less than a tenth of what it was in 2000

Revenue from excise taxes on telephones and telephone services fell from $5.67 billion in 2000 to a mere $436 million in 2019. This is in part because the IRS abandoned its excise tax on long-distance calls, but also because the rise of cellular phones has provided stiff competition to traditional telephones and landline telephone services.

12. State governments collected more than a trillion in taxes

In 2018, state governments collected approximately $1.03 trillion in taxes. That’s more than the GDPs of all the countries of the world except the top 15.

13. California rakes in more than double the tax revenue of New York

In 2019, California pulled in a little over $188 billion dollars in tax revenue, more than double the haul of the state with the next highest tax revenue—New York at $91.6 billion. New York, in turn, took in $28 billion more than Texas (just over $63 billion), the next state, and Texas took in $18.5 billion more than Florida (at almost $45 billion). The reasons for this are simple: California’s economy is huge (it generates 14.5% of the entire country’s GDP), and its base sales tax and income tax are the highest of any state in the union.

14. Colorado makes $20 million per month in revenue on taxes of cannabis

Brings a whole new meaning to that John Denver song “Rocky Mountain High,” doesn’t it? In 2019, Colorado made over $20 million per month in taxes on sales, fees, and licenses for cannabis, with a high of $29.75 million in September. All told, Colorado made a little over $302 million in 2019 on legalized cannabis. That’s equal to 2% of the revenue Colorado generated in federal income taxes.

Tax revenue from marijuana licensing colorado

15. State and local sales taxes generated over $570 billion in 2017

All those little charges add up to quite a bit. State and local general sales taxes generated over $570 billion in revenue in 2017. General and selected sales taxes have generated an increasing amount of revenue since 1977. If this were federal revenue, it would be enough to pay for the entire Medicaid program ($409 billion in 2019) and then some.

revenue from state and local taxes

16. Americans are upset that corporations don’t pay their fair share in taxes!

A 2019 survey by Pew Research Center revealed that 62% of Americans say it bothers them “a lot” that “corporations don’t pay their fair share” of taxes. Small wonder because the list of corporations that paid no federal taxes in 2018 is long.

17. Of the 50 largest US companies, ConocoPhillips paid the highest effective tax rate

From the period between 2008 and 2014, ConocoPhillips paid the highest effective tax rate of any US-based company, at 65.8% of their income, according to the Statista Research Department. Citigroup paid the lowest, at -91.7%, meaning they received more money from the government than they paid. Two other companies received more from the federal government than they paid: Ford Motor Company and General Motors, at effective tax rates of -34.6% and -45.5%, respectively.

18. $500 million in profit; a $342 million tax refund

IBM reported a U.S. income of $500 million in 2018. Don’t worry about them, though; they got a refund of $342 million.

19. A negative effective tax rate is a thing

Amazon, whose 2018 U.S. income was $10.8 billion, had a negative effective tax rate of -1%.

largest publicly held profitable companies - paid no taxes

20. More than half of Americans have a favorable view of the IRS

A survey conducted in 2015 showed that a mere 45% of Americans had a favorable view of the IRS. Feelings about the agency were divided largely along party lines: 62% of Democrats had a favorable view of the IRS and a mere 30% of Republicans had a favorable view of it. Also, older individuals, those that make more money, and those that are less educated tended to have more negative views of the agency than others. But, times have changed. A 2020 Pew Research study indicates about 65% of Americans view the IRS favorably. Interestingly, 65% of Democrats have a favorable view of the IRS now, and 68% of Republicans do. That’s a substantial increase on the Republican side of the aisle in five short years.

opinions of various public agency

And That’s It

Taxes may seem like a chore and basically drudgery, but on the bright side, they do yield some interesting facts if you like your knowledge random. Chasing tax statistics can take you down the rabbit hole quickly. With all the different taxes to be paid and separate local, state, and federal tax policies, there’s a lot that goes into generating revenue for the government.