CBO looked at 2007 through 2009 — the latest years data are available, but enough to include the early effects of the last recession — and found the bottom 20 percent of American earners paid just three-tenths of a percent of the total federal tax burden, while the richest 20 percent paid 67.9 percent of taxes.
The top 1 percent, whom President Obama has made a target during the presidential campaign, earned 13.4 percent of all pre-tax income but paid 22.3 percent of taxes in 2009, CBO said. When tax burden is figured in, the top 1 percent took in only 11.5 percent of income.
But the richest 1 percent’s share of the total tax burden did drop 4.4 percentage points from 2007 to 2009 — a figure likely to bolster Mr. Obama’s calls for them to pay more by letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire.
The big losers over the past few years were the rest of the well-off — those in the 60th percent to 99th percent of earnings — who saw their tax burdens go up.
“Specifically, between 2007 and 2009, the share of taxes paid fell for the bottom three income quintiles, was close to flat for the fourth quintile, but rose for the highest quintile,” CBO said. “Within the top quintile, however, the shift was uneven; the share paid by the top percentile fell, and the share paid by the rest of the top quintile rose.”
In terms of actual earnings, the top 1 percent suffered the most in the recession, with their average earnings dropping from $1.9 million to $1.2 million. The lowest 20 percent saw their incomes drop from $23,900 to $23,500 during that time.
CBO included a wide range of measures of income including wages, employer-paid health insurance premiums and capital gains.
CBO said the top 1 percent earned an average of 1.9 million in pre-tax income in 2009, while the top 20 percent as a whole averaged $273,000. The fourth quintile averaged $98,400, the middle quintile averaged $67,600, the second quintile averaged $45,600, and the lowest quintile averaged $23,900 in income.
Mr. Obama has called for households making $250,000 a year or more to pay higher income tax rates, though he has proposed extending the Bush-era rates for those making less.
Republicans have countered that they want a one-year extension of all current rates in order to have breathing space to tackle a broader overhaul of the tax code.
CBO, the non-partisan agency that serves as Congress’ official scorekeeper, said the current tax code is progressive chiefly because of the income tax structure. On average, the lowest 40 percent of earners actually get money back through the income tax code because of refundable tax credits.
Actual changes to the tax code between 2007 and 2009 benefited the lowest earners, CBO said.