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Recent Trends in U.S. Top Income Shares in Tax Record Data Using More Comprehensive Measures of Income Including Accrued Capital Gains

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Listed:
  • Jeff Larrimore
  • Richard V. Burkhauser
  • Gerald Auten
  • Philip Armour

Abstract

Access to IRS personal income tax records improves researchers’ ability to track U.S. income and inequality, especially at the very top of the distribution (Piketty and Saez 2003). However, rather than following standard Haig-Simons income definitions, tax form income measures were designed to implement the Internal Revenue Code. Using IRS tax record data since 1989 statistically matched to Survey of Consumer Finances and Census data for income sources not available in tax data, we explore the robustness of levels and trends in inequality using the top income literature’s tax return market income definition (Saez 2016) compared to more comprehensive income measures. We find that focusing solely on market income misses the important redistributive effects of government taxes and transfers. In addition, we find that the use of taxable realized capital gains changes the level and trend in top incomes relative to an accrued capital gains measure that is more consistent with Haig-Simons income definitions.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeff Larrimore & Richard V. Burkhauser & Gerald Auten & Philip Armour, 2016. "Recent Trends in U.S. Top Income Shares in Tax Record Data Using More Comprehensive Measures of Income Including Accrued Capital Gains," NBER Working Papers 23007, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23007
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 3-71, March.
    2. Gerald Auten & Geoffrey Gee & Nicholas Turner, 2013. "Income Inequality, Mobility, and Turnover at the Top in the US, 1987-2010," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 168-172, May.
    3. Michael R. Veall, 2012. "Top income shares in Canada: recent trends and policy implications," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 45(4), pages 1247-1272, November.
    4. Barthold, Thomas A., 1993. "How Should We Measure Distribution?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 46(3), pages 291-99, September.
    5. Auerbach, Alan J., 1989. "Capital Gains Taxation and Tax Reform," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 42(3), pages 391-401, September.
    6. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez & Gabriel Zucman, 2016. "Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States," NBER Working Papers 22945, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Edward Wolff & Ajit Zacharias, 2009. "Household wealth and the measurement of economic well-being in the United States," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 7(2), pages 83-115, June.
    8. Shan, Hui, 2011. "The effect of capital gains taxation on home sales: Evidence from the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1), pages 177-188.
    9. Auerbach, Alan J., 1989. "Capital Gains Taxation and Tax Reform," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 42(3), pages 391-401, September.
    10. Cunningham, Christopher R. & Engelhardt, Gary V., 2008. "Housing capital-gains taxation and homeowner mobility: Evidence from the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 803-815, May.
    11. Barthold, Thomas A., 1993. "How Should We Measure Distribution?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 46(3), pages 291-299, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Richard V. Burkhauser & Nicolas Hérault & Stephen P. Jenkins & Roger Wilkins, 2017. "Survey Under-Coverage of Top Incomes and Estimation of Inequality: What Is the Role of the UK’s SPI Adjustment?," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2017n16, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
    2. Jeff Larrimore & Jacob Mortenson & David Splinter, 2017. "Household Incomes in Tax Data : Using Addresses to Move from Tax Unit to Household Income Distributions," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2017-002, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs

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