There's been a lot of back-and-forth recently over the fact that almost half of all Americans pay no Federal income tax. Conservatives trumpet this as evidence that we're too focused on taxing the rich; liberals retort that the poor often pay heavy payroll taxes, and anyway, the rich make more of the income.
Who's right? To my mind, they both are. Or perhaps, both wrong.
To start with, it isn't true that everyone at the bottom end of the pay scale pays 12.4% payroll tax; relieving them of that tax burden is part of the point of the EITC. And while the share of income held by the top earners has increased, so has the share of the federal tax burden that they bear; it's now around 70%. And before you start complaining about state and local taxes, they also bear a heavy share of those, particularly in high-income jurisdictions where they're likely to live. They are the net payers of property taxes (your family needs to be in a pretty pricey house before the town gets back in taxes what it gives you in services.) Even sales taxes don't necessarily hit the poor harder, because so many of the goods they buy are exempt or subsidized. The real regressive action is in sin taxes, user fees, and Social Security, none of which are notably Republican projects.