The Truth-O-Meter Says:

"Five percent of Americans pay over half the income taxes in this country. Forty percent of Americans pay no income taxes at all."

Fred Thompson on Wednesday, December 12th, 2007 in debate in Johnston, Iowa

Thompson's tax numbers add up

Fred Thompson, in arguing that the tax cuts of the Bush administration should be renewed, said that 5 percent of Americans pay over half the income taxes in this country, and that 40 percent of Americans pay no income taxes at all.

Both figures are true.

The top 5 percent of all payers do pay more than half the income tax. They pay about 59.2 percent of all individual income tax, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan institute run jointly by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Thompson also said that 40 percent of Americans pay no income tax. This claim is supported by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group that promotes transparency in the tax code and economic growth.

There's a small caveat to the 40 percent number — it includes nonfilers, typically taxpayers who don't have to file returns because their incomes are too low. It's logical to assume that most nonfilers don't pay income taxes, but it's possible that some did if they had income taxes withheld by an employer. This is probably a very small number, because people with low incomes have an economic incentive to file a return and get a refund.

The U.S. income tax system is progressive, which means that rates increase as income increases. Given that structure, it makes sense that people with higher incomes pay more taxes, and people with low incomes might pay no tax at all. Thompson's numbers are on the money, and we rate them True.

About this statement:

Published: Thursday, December 13th, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Subjects: Taxes


Tax Policy Center, Current-Law Distribution of Federal Taxes By Cash Income Percentiles, 2007 , Nov. 30, 2006

Interview with Eric Toder of the Urban Institute and the Tax Policy Center

Tax Foundation, Number of Americans Paying Zero Federal Income Tax Grows to 43.4-Million , March 30, 2006

Written by: Angie Drobnic Holan
Researched by: Angie Drobnic Holan
Edited by: Amy Hollyfield

How to contact us:

We want to hear your suggestions and comments.

For tips or comments on our Obameter and our GOP-Pledge-O-Meter promise databases, please e-mail the Obameter. If you are commenting on a specific promise, please include the wording of the promise.

For comments about our Truth-O-Meter or Flip-O-Meter items, please e-mail the Truth-O-Meter. We’re especially interested in seeing any chain e-mails you receive that you would like us to check out. If you send us a comment, we'll assume you don't mind us publishing it unless you tell us otherwise.

Browse The Truth-O-MeterTM: