The Dallas Morning News

U.S. tax burden isn’t all that bad

Americans pay much less than would be the case in many nations

- Ben Steverman, Bloomberg News

Americans generally feel they’re being overtaxed, especially around this time of the year. Even their president agrees.

“With lower taxes on America’s middle class and businesses, we will see a new surge of economic growth and developmen­t,” Donald Trump said this month, expanding on an earlier promise to cut Uncle Sam’s bill “massively.” But the reality is that the average U.S. worker pays quite a bit less than he would elsewhere in the developed world. And what’s more, that has been the case for a long time.

The Organizati­on for Economic Cooperatio­n and Developmen­t analyzed how 35 countries tax wage-earners, making it possible to compare tax burdens across the world’s biggest economies.

Each year, the OECD measures what it calls the “tax wedge,” the gap between what workers get paid and what they actually spend or save. Included are income taxes, payroll taxes, and any tax credits or rebates that supplement income. Excluded are the countless other ways that government­s levy taxes, such as sales and value-added taxes, property taxes, and taxes on investment income and gains.

Belgium, France at top

Guess who came out at the top of the list.

No. Not the U.S. At the top are Belgium and France, while workers in Chile and New Zealand are taxed the least. America is in the bottom third.

A single worker earning an average wage in Belgium ends up paying a tax rate almost eight times as much as the average single worker in Chile, the OECD found.

But one simple number can be deceiving if you’re trying to paint a national picture. Married people and those with children tend to pay different tax rates than single, childless taxpayers. And in most countries, including the U.S., the well-off pay far more than lower-income people.

When the OECD analyzed married couples with children, the rankings looked a little different. New Zealand ends up with the lowest rate, while France ranks highest.

The average single U.S. worker with no kids earned $52,543 last year and paid a combined $13,649 in payroll taxes, federal income tax, state and local government taxes . The taxpayer’s employer pitched in $4,020 in payroll taxes. That overall rate, 31.7 percent, might seem like a lot, but it’s more than 4 points below the OECD average.

U.S. below average

In every other scenario analyzed by the OECD in its 584page “Taxing Wages” report, the U.S. tax burden was also below average, from 3 points to almost 6 points depending on the taxpayers’ wages, marital status, and number of children. In fact, the tax burden on most American workers hasn’t budged much over the last two decades, despite tax cuts under former President George W. Bush and upper-income tax hikes under former President Barack Obama.

Forty-one states levy an income tax, and many Americans also pay a city or county income tax. To simplify its analysis, the OECD chose Detroit to represent a typical state and local income tax burden. The state of Michigan levies a below-average income tax rate of 4.25 percent, but Detroit residents must pay an additional city tax of 2.4 percent.

Workers in two of the world’s highest-taxed countries did get some relief last year. The average tax burden for singles fell 2.5 percentage points in Austria and 1.3 points in Belgium from 2015 to 2016. Otherwise, the OECD data suggest that a country’s tax burden usually stays remarkably consistent from year to year and decade to decade.

The only reliable way to change your tax burden may be to move.

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