Sorry, Middle Class: In a Few Years, Your Taxes Will Have to Go Up, Too

Here are two facts about taxes under the fiscal cliff deal.

Fact One: This year, the 1 percent will pay more in taxes than in any year since 1979.
Average_Federal_Tax_Rates_Top_1_Percent-thumb-615x480-109671.png

Fact Two: We're still not raising enough revenue for the next ten years. Total tax revenue for the next decade will be 18 percent or 18.5 percent of the overall economy. Okay, so that's not far from our historical average. But the next decade's spending demands are nothing like our historical average. We're entering a historically unique moment where we've promised to pay health care and retirement insurance to tens of millions of Boomers, and that will require more money than we're currently collecting for the government -- even if we means-test or change benefits.

fiscalcliff_fig1.png

Fact One suggests we might be through raising taxes on the rich. Fact Two suggests we're not through raising taxes in total. And both facts together suggest that the next tax increase will have to come from families further down the ladder. Maybe we'll start by raising rates or limiting deductions for the 98th and 97th percentiles, who are hardly middle class, but also hardly millionaires. Or maybe under Republican leadership we'll start by clearing out deductions that force lower-income families, many of whom don't owe positive federal income tax, to take fewer benefits.

Right now, Washington doesn't need more money and most families can scarcely afford to pay more in taxes without threatening the shallow recovery. Still, it's impractical to think that revenue as a share of GDP will stay this low after the economy improves and interest rates rise and Medicare and Medicaid costs swell for the retiring Boomer generation. Taxes will have to keep rising and we might be running out of space at the top. 

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Business

Just In