Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, my fellow Americans. But: Your taxes are already very low.
They're low by historical standards, by international standards and relative to what you receive in the form of government services. Despite political rhetoric, Americans simply don't pay that much to Uncle Sam.
Americans seem reluctant to believe this.
Half of Americans told Gallup in April that their taxes were "too high," an increase from the average level of 45% over the prior three years. And the share saying this was greatest among middle-income respondents, those making between $40,000 to $99,000 per year.
This perception contrasts starkly with what Americans — including the middle class — are actually paying this year. Americans are forking over very little, according to calculations from Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. Households earning less than $75,000, on average, will pay nothing in federal income taxes; those earning between $75,000 and $100,000 will pay an average income tax rate of just 1.8%.
Of course, income taxes aren't the only taxes people pay. But the committee finds that even including federal payroll and excise taxes, lower- and middle-income families are projected to pay a smaller share of their income today than they did a few years ago. For example, those making $75,000 to $100,000 are projected to pay an average tax rate of 11.9% this year; in 2016, the same income group paid 16.1%.
Tax burdens are lower today thanks to a series of cuts passed under both President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. These include direct payments that Americans received, known variously as "stimulus payments or "economic impact payments." These were advance payments on a tax credit — i.e., tax cuts — even if they weren't always marketed as such. Other changes, such as the expanded child tax credit, have reduced tax liabilities, too.
Lots of Americans believe their taxes went up after the Trump tax cuts because they live in high-tax states, and the law newly capped the state-and-local-tax (SALT) deduction. In reality, taxes still fell on net for all but a sliver of Americans, because of other offsetting changes such as the doubling of the standard deduction. Even in New York, taxes rose on only 8 percent of households. Repealing the cap now would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. Not that you'd know this from the rhetoric of some Democratic lawmakers, who have described the SALT cap repeal as a "middle-class" concern.
This kind of rhetoric matters when people assess their tax burden. So do perceptions of whether the government is working in their favor.
Democratic politicians are not exactly helping perceptions. They've argued that the middle class and poor deserve much more government services — but that only the very wealthy and corporations should foot the bill for the expansion.
Given rising inequality and plutocratic tax-code changes, corporations and the wealthy are a good place to start raising more revenue as the economy recovers. But if Biden wants to permanently transform the role of government, eventually we'll need broader-based taxes, just as other countries with more robust welfare states already have.
It would be nice if Democrats began making that case openly, rather than conceding to the Republican myth that everyone's already overtaxed.
Catherine Rampell writes for The Washington Post.