As Congress and the White House pivot from trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act to overhauling the U.S. tax code, it’s helpful to take a closer look at how the tax system works presently in the context of its recent history.
Individual income taxes are the federal government’s single biggest revenue source. In fiscal year 2017, which ended Sept. 30, the individual income tax was expected to bring in nearly $1.66 trillion, or about 48% of all federal revenues, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The corporate income tax was estimated to raise another $324 billion, or 9% of total federal revenue.
The rest of the federal government’s revenue comes from a mix of sources, including Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, excise taxes such as those on alcohol and gasoline, unemployment-insurance taxes, customs duties and estate taxes. Spending that’s not covered by taxes is paid for by borrowing.
The individual income tax is designed to be progressive – those with higher incomes pay at higher rates. A Pew Research Center analysis of IRS data from 2015, the most recent available, shows that taxpayers with incomes of $200,000 or more paid well over half (58.8%) of federal income taxes, though they accounted for only 4.5% of all returns filed (6.8% of all taxable returns).
By contrast, taxpayers with incomes below $30,000 filed nearly 44% of all returns but paid just 1.4% of all federal income tax – in fact, two-thirds of the nearly 66 million returns filed by people in that lowest income tier owed no tax at all. (The IRS tax data used here are estimates based on a stratified probability sample of all returns.)
Although the overall U.S. poverty rate declined and incomes rose rapidly for the second straight year in 2016, many poor Americans fell deeper into poverty, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
The official poverty rate was 12.7% last year, close to its pre-Great Recession level (12.5% in 2007). This represents 40.6 million people in poverty. But categorizing people as below or above the poverty line is just one way of looking at economic well-being.
The share of the U.S. poor population in severe poverty – defined by the Census Bureau as those with family or individual incomes below half of their poverty threshold – reached its highest point in at least 20 years. It was 45.6% in 2016, up from 39.5% in 1996. (The share of the total U.S. population in severe poverty has declined over the past two years, alongside the overall poverty rate.)
Poverty thresholds, which are used by the Census Bureau to calculate the U.S. poverty rate, vary across families. The Census poverty thresholds in 2016 ranged from around $12,000 for a single-person family to around $25,000 for a family of four, and higher still for larger families. In comparison, the median household income for all households was $59,039 in 2016. For family households only, median household income was $75,062.
For more than two decades, partisan polarization has been a powerful force in American politics. Today, the divide between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental values relating to the role of government, the environment, race, immigration and other issues dwarfs demographic, religious and education differences, according to surveys conducted by Pew Research Center in June and July.
What is striking is how little common ground there is among partisans today. Even on issues on which Republicans and Democrats have moved in the same direction – for example, growing numbers in both parties say homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged – the partisan differences are wider today than in the past.
Here are eight takeaways from the surveys:
1Across 10 political values Pew Research Center has tracked since 1994, there is now an average 36-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic leaners. In 1994, it was only 15 points. The partisan gap is much larger than the differences between the opinions of blacks and whites, men and women and other groups in society.
2Democrats have moved left on several issues. Over the past few years, some of the biggest changes in opinions among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have been on race and the role of government. There has been far less change in the views of Republicans and Republican leaners. As a result, the public’s views as a whole have moved in a more liberal direction. Read More →
Several initiatives have emerged recently to help newsrooms connect with the public, build trust and do a better job of bringing citizens’ voices into the news. But the news media have a long way to go, according to new data from Pew Research Center. Just 5% of the more than 3,000 news stories studied during the first 100 days of the Trump presidency cited a member of the public, one of nine source types analyzed.
That figure compares with about three-quarters of stories that cited Trump or a member of his administration, 35% that cited another news outlet or journalist, 26% that cited a Republican member of Congress and 21% that cited a Democratic member. Stories that cited a member of the public also are less common than those that cite an expert or an interest group.
The low level of citizen voices held true for the five most prominent topic areas studied: the president’s political skills, immigration, appointments and nominations, U.S.-Russia relations, and health care. Across these five topics, which accounted for two-thirds of the coverage, citations of everyday Americans never rose above 7%.
Digital news and social media continue to grow, with mobile devices rapidly becoming one of the most common ways for Americans to get news. As journalists and media practitioners gather for the annual Online News Association conference, here are 10 key findings from recent Pew Research Center reports about today’s digital news media landscape:
1The gap between television and online news consumption is narrowing. As of August 2017, 43% of Americans report often getting news online, a share just 7 percentage points lower than the 50% who often get news on television. The gap between the two news platforms was 19 points in early 2016, more than twice as large. The share of Americans who often get news from TV – whether from local TV news, nightly network TV news or cable news – has fallen, while the portion of Americans often getting news online – either from news websites/apps or social media – has grown.
2Use of mobile devices for news continues to grow. As of spring 2017, 45% of U.S. adults often get news on a mobile device, up from 36% in 2016 and 21% in 2013. The use of desktop or laptop computers for news remains steady, with 31% saying they often get news this way. In all, 85% of Americans ever get news on a mobile device, the same proportion who do so on a desktop computer. And, among those who get news both ways, mobile devices are increasingly preferred. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of U.S. adults who get news on both mobile and desktop prefer mobile, up from 56% in 2016.
From driverless cars to a workplace staffed by robots, automation has the potential to reshape many facets of American life. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in May examines Americans’ attitudes about four emerging automation technologies: workplace automation, driverless cars, robot caregivers, and computer algorithms that evaluate and hire job applicants. Although Americans tend to have a positive view of technology overall, this survey finds that the continuing march of new technologies is causing them concern. Here are six key findings from the report:
1The public generally expresses more worry than enthusiasm about emerging automation technologies – especially when it comes to jobs. U.S. adults are roughly twice as likely to express worry (72%) as enthusiasm (33%) about a future in which robots and computers are capable of doing many jobs that are currently done by humans. They are also around three times as likely to express worry (67%) as enthusiasm (22%) about algorithms that make hiring decisions without any human involvement. By comparison, Americans tend to hold more balanced views toward driverless vehicles and robot caregivers.
Throughout history, many kingdoms and nations have closely aligned themselves with religion by establishing official, government-endorsed faiths. Today, more than 80 countries either have an official religion or favor one or more religious groups over others, according to a new Pew Research Center report.
Countries that have an official religion, such as Iran or the United Kingdom, confer an official and legal status to one faith group, often granting that group benefits not available to other religions. Some nations do not officially endorse a faith, but instead favor or prefer a religion by granting financial, legal or other benefits to one (or occasionally more than one) religious group – as is the case with the Roman Catholic Church in Italy and Spain.
Countries without an official or preferred religion, such as the United States and Brazil, may have explicitly secular constitutions or basic laws that guarantee religious freedom, although this alone does not qualify them for this category. In addition to these laws, governments in these countries seek to avoid giving tangible benefits to one religious group over others (although they may evenhandedly provide benefits to many religious groups). Other countries, meanwhile, are either officially or unofficially hostile to religion, often making it very difficult for any faith group to practice freely.
Here are five key facts about countries that favor religious groups and those that do not:
1Roughly one-in-five (22%) of the world’s nations have an official state religion and a similar share (20%) have a preferred or favored faith tradition. The majority (53%) of the 199 countries we examined, including the U.S., have no official or preferred religion. Another 5% of the world’s nations are officially hostile to or extremely restrictive of religious institutions. Although a number of formerly communist countries now have official or preferred religions, all of the 10 countries that are hostile to or extremely restrictive of religion are either ruled by communist governments, such as China and Cuba, or are former communist states, such as Kazakhstan.
Pessimism about the GOP’s future remains a minority viewpoint among Republicans and Republican leaners. However, a Pew Research Center survey of 4,867 adults conducted Sept. 14-28 finds that the share of Republicans who are very or somewhat pessimistic about the future of their party has nearly doubled, from 20% in December to 39% in the current survey.
About six-in-ten Republicans (59%) say they are very (12%) or somewhat (47%) optimistic about the future of the Republican Party. In December 2016, nearly eight-in-ten (79%) said they were very (28%) or somewhat (51%) optimistic. Republican views are now comparable to what they were on the eve of the 2016 election: Last November, 61% expressed optimism about their party’s future.
Though Democratic views are little changed since December, Democrats are now slightly more optimistic about their party than Republicans are about the GOP. Today 64% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are either very (13%) or somewhat (51%) optimistic about their party’s future. Democratic optimism remains considerably lower than it was in the days before the 2016 election, when 77% of Democrats and Democratic leaners expressed optimism.
Syrians filed more than twice as many asylum applications as any other origin group during Europe’s record migration surge in 2015 and 2016. In response, some European countries such as Germany prioritized the review of Syrian asylum applications above other nationalities of asylum seekers and approved a greater share of them than non-Syrians.
In all, more than half a million asylum seekers from Syria during the 2015-16 surge had received permission to stay in Europe, at least temporarily, as of Dec. 31, 2016, according to Pew Research Center estimates of data from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.
Syrians not only filed the most applications, they also had the highest share of approved applications of any asylum-seeker origin group. Among nationalities with the most asylum applications in 2015 and 2016, estimates show the share of Syrians (80%) permitted to stay in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland was far higher than the share among Eritreans (68%), Somalians (38%), Iraqis (36%), Sudanese (36%) and Afghans (22%).
The high school dropout rate among U.S. Hispanics has fallen to a new low, extending a decades-long decline, according to recently released data from the Census Bureau. The reduction has come alongside a long-term increase in Hispanic college enrollment, which is at a record high.
The Hispanic dropout rate was 10% in 2016, with about 648,000 Hispanics ages 18 to 24 – out of more than 6.5 million nationally in that age group – not completing high school and not enrolled in school. Just five years earlier, the rate had been 16%.
The overall high school dropout rate in the U.S. has also fallen substantially in recent decades, matching a record low of 6% in 2016. Hispanics have accounted for much of that decline. Since 1999, the earliest year for which data on all major races and ethnicities are available, the dropout rate among Hispanics has fallen by 24 percentage points, compared with 9 points among blacks, 3 points among whites and 2 points among Asians. (Hispanics, however, still have the highest dropout rate of these four groups.)