When all forms of taxes and income are considered, poor Americans pay higher tax rates than the richest 1%.
The analysis starts with state and local taxes, which are often ignored by apologists for big-income tax cuts. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the state and local tax rate for the poorest 20 percent of individuals is double that of the top 1 percent (10.9 percent vs. 5.4 percent). New data from Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman allows us to go further: When unrealized capital gains are included in the wealth-building of the richest 1%, the overall tax rates plunge for the super-rich, causing the poorest Americans to pay the highest rates.
What is the justification for adding unrealized capital gains to one’s income? The 16th Amendment gives Congress the power “to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” Thus, under an original definition of income developed by the American economists Robert M. Haig and Henry C. Simons in the 1920s and still utilized by financial economists, an increase in the value of a stock or other asset would be subject to taxation even if it’s not sold.
With this more accurate guide to income measurement, the real tax rates paid by the 1% can be calculated. The bottom line is that poor Americans pay about 25 percent in total taxes, while the 1% pays anywhere from 18 to 23 percent.