Study: Government Will Take Almost Half of Your Lifetime Income

Marginal Net Taxation of Americans’ Labor Supply

The U.S. has a plethora of federal and state tax and benefit programs, each with its own work incentives and disincentives. This paper uses the Fiscal Analyzer (TFA) to assess how these policies, in unison, impact work incentives. TFA is a life-cycle, consumption-smoothing program that incorporates household borrowing constraints and all major federal and state fiscal policies. We use TFA in conjunction with the 2016 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances to calculate Americans’ remaining lifetime marginal net tax rates. Our findings are striking. One in four low-wage workers face marginal net tax rates above 70 percent, effectively locking them into poverty. Over half face remaining lifetime marginal net tax rates above 45 percent. The richest 1 percent also face a high median lifetime marginal tax rate – roughly 50 percent. Double taxation matters. The overall median lifetime marginal net tax rate is 43.2 percent compared with an overall current-year marginal net tax rate of 37.6 percent. We also find remarkable dispersion in both lifetime and current year marginal net tax rates, particularly among the poor, and major differences in marginal and average net taxation across states, providing typical households a large incentive to relocate to another state.