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Business in the United States: Who Owns It, and How Much Tax Do They Pay?

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 30

Author

Listed:
  • Michael Cooper
  • John McClelland
  • James Pearce
  • Richard Prisinzano
  • Joseph Sullivan
  • Danny Yagan
  • Owen Zidar
  • Eric Zwick

Abstract

“Pass-through” businesses like partnerships and S-corporations now generate over half of U.S. business income and account for much of the post-1980 rise in the top- 1% income share. We use administrative tax data from 2011 to identify pass-through business owners and estimate how much tax they pay. We present three findings. (1) Relative to traditional business income, pass-through business income is substantially more concentrated among high-earners. (2) Partnership ownership is opaque: 20% of the income goes to unclassifiable partners, and 15% of the income is earned in circularly owned partnerships. (3) The average federal income tax rate on U.S. pass- through business income is 19%|much lower than the average rate on traditional corporations. If pass-through activity had remained at 1980's low level, strong but straightforward assumptions imply that the 2011 average U.S. tax rate on total U.S. business income would have been 28% rather than 24%, and tax revenue would have been approximately $100 billion higher.
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Suggested Citation

  • Michael Cooper & John McClelland & James Pearce & Richard Prisinzano & Joseph Sullivan & Danny Yagan & Owen Zidar & Eric Zwick, 2014. "Business in the United States: Who Owns It, and How Much Tax Do They Pay?," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 30, pages 91-128 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:13689
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato & Owen Zidar, 2016. "Who Benefits from State Corporate Tax Cuts? A Local Labor Markets Approach with Heterogeneous Firms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(9), pages 2582-2624, September.
    2. Steven N. Kaplan & Joshua Rauh, 2010. "Wall Street and Main Street: What Contributes to the Rise in the Highest Incomes?," NBER Chapters,in: Corporate Governance National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "Income Inequality in the United States, 1913–1998," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(1), pages 1-41.
    4. Gabriel Zucman, 2014. "Taxing across Borders: Tracking Personal Wealth and Corporate Profits," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(4), pages 121-148, Fall.
    5. Danny Yagan, 2015. "Capital Tax Reform and the Real Economy: The Effects of the 2003 Dividend Tax Cut," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(12), pages 3531-3563, December.
    6. Gravelle, Jane G & Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1989. "The Incidence and Efficiency Costs of Corporate Taxation When Corporate and Noncorporate Firms Produce the Same Good," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(4), pages 749-780, August.
    7. Knittel, Matthew J. & Nelson, Susan C., 2011. "How Would Small Business Owners Fare Under a Business Entity Tax?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 64(4), pages 949-975, December.
    8. Alan J. Auerbach, 1983. "Corporate Taxation in the United States," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 14(2), pages 451-514.
    9. Eric Zwick & James Mahon, 2017. "Tax Policy and Heterogeneous Investment Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(1), pages 217-248, January.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D33 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Factor Income Distribution
    • E25 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Aggregate Factor Income Distribution
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H22 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Incidence
    • H25 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Business Taxes and Subsidies
    • M2 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Economics

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