City Residents Pay More... Taxes

Residents of big cities pay a disproportionate share of federal taxes. That's true not only of growing cities but declining Rustbelt ones, even hard-hit Detroit. Overall, urbanites pay 27 percent more in federal income taxes than workers with similar skills in small cities and  rural areas. That's according to an important new study by University of Michigan economist and MPI associate David Albouy in the Journal of Political Economy, Here's a summary of its key findings.

 

"Workers in cities are generally paid higher wages than similarly skilled workers in smaller towns, so they're taxed at higher rates. That may sound fair, until one considers the higher cost of living in cities, which means those higher wages don't provide any extra buying power. The federal income tax system doesn't account for cost of living. So the effect is that workers in expensive cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago pay more in taxes even though their real income is essentially the same as workers in smaller, cheaper places.

"The extra burden wouldn't be so excessive if more federal tax dollars were returned to urban areas in the form of higher federal spending. But according to Albouy's research, that's not the case. His data show that more federal dollars are actually spent in rural areas, despite the fact that cities send far more cash to Washington. The net effect of all this is a transfer of $269 million from workers in high-cost areas to workers in lower cost rural areas in 2008 alone.

"Over the long haul, Albouy says, the larger tax burden causes workers to flee large urban centers in the Northeast and settle in less expensive places in the South. So to some extent, it may have been the federal tax system that put the rust on the rust belt.

"Detroit is a perfect example of a city that gets the short end of the stick.

"With its high wage levels, Detroit was, until recently, contributing far more in federal revenues per capita than most other places for over one hundred years," Albouy said. The recent federal bailout to Detroit automakers "is peanuts relative to the extra billions the city has poured into Washington over the 20th Century."

"Albouy says that city folk shouldn't expect relief from this system anytime soon.

"Highly taxed areas tend to be in large cities inside of populous states, which have low Congressional representation per capita, making the prospect of reform daunting," he writes.

The full study is here (PDF).

Presented by

Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More

Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative Class, Who's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here.

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This wildly inventive short film takes you on a whirling, spinning tour of the Big Apple

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

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 Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

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 National

From This Author

Just In