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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wore a dress that said "tax the rich" to a gala in New York City on Sept. 13, 2021. (Photo by NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx) Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wore a dress that said "tax the rich" to a gala in New York City on Sept. 13, 2021. (Photo by NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wore a dress that said "tax the rich" to a gala in New York City on Sept. 13, 2021. (Photo by NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 14, 2021

A rip on AOC’s dress misses with claim that the top 1% pay 90% of income taxes

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  • The top half of taxpayers pay 97% of federal income taxes, according to the latest IRS figures. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. used her invitation to the Met Gala — "the buzziest event in the New York glitterati calendar," as Bloomberg Wealth put it — to make a political statement, and she created a buzz that her critics couldn’t resist. 

"TAX THE RICH" was emblazoned in red letters on the back of the off-the-shoulder white gown she wore to the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art benefit, where tickets cost $30,000 to $35,000. 

One image criticizing Ocasio-Cortez on Facebook included a photo of her at the event with her back to the camera, showing the political message. The image claimed she was "wearing a $10,000 designer dress that says tax the rich, who already pay 97% of the taxes in the United States."

Conservative influencer Christian Walker (son of U.S. Senate candidate and former football player Herschel Walker) made a similar point in calling out the Met Gala’s "disgusting display of hypocrisy" on his social media channels. On his Facebook page, his caption said: "By the way: the top 1% pays 90% of income taxes."

The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We weren’t able to find out the cost of the dress, which Ocasio-Cortez said she borrowed from a store in Brooklyn. The store’s founder told CNN she hasn’t calculated a cost. But the claim we’re checking relates to the other part of the post: Do the top 1% really pay the lion’s share of federal income taxes?

No.

In 2018, 97% of federal income taxes were collected from about half of the taxpayers, according to March 2021 Senate Budget Committee testimony by the Tax Foundation

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It cited the latest figures from the Internal Revenue Service, noting they account for the 2017 tax cuts adopted under President Donald Trump.

That top half included people who had an adjusted gross income of more than $43,614.

The top 1% — those earning $540,009 or more — accounted for 40% of the federal income taxes paid.

The picture looks a little different when talking about all federal taxes.

The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research group, uses a different approach and makes estimates. It divides taxpayers into five income groups, or quintiles, and calculates all federal taxes, including personal income taxes, payroll taxes and the worker and shareholder shares of corporate taxes. 

"By our numbers, 95% of all federal taxes are paid by households in the top two quintiles — those making about $98,000 or more," said Tax Policy Center senior fellow Howard Gleckman. 

Our ruling

A Facebook post criticizing the message on a dress worn by Ocasio-Cortez said that "the top 1% pays 90% of income taxes."

According to the latest IRS figures, 97% of federal income taxes in 2018 were paid by half of the taxpayers — which includes taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of almost $44,000 and up.

We rate the post False.

Our Sources

Facebook, post, Sept. 13, 2021

Tax Foundation, testimony to the Senate Budget Committee, March 21, 2021

Tax Foundation, "Summary of the Latest Federal Income Tax Data, 2021 Update," Feb. 3, 2021

Bloomberg Wealth, "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Brings 'Tax The Rich' Message to New York’s Elite," Sept. 13, 2021

Email, Tax Foundation president Scott Hodge, Sept. 14, 2021

Instagram, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez post, Sept. 13, 2021

Heritage Foundation, "In 1 Chart, How Much the Rich Pay in Taxes," March 3, 2021

The Guardian, "‘Medium is the message’: AOC defends ‘tax the rich’ dress worn to Met Gala," Sept. 14, 2021

National Taxpayers Union Foundation, "Who Pays Income Taxes?", accessed Sept. 14, 2021

Email, Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at Tax Policy Center, Sept. 14, 2021

CNN, "Designer of AOC's 'Tax the Rich' dress responds to criticism," Sept. 14, 2021

Tax Policy Center, "T21-0088 – Baseline Distribution of Income and Federal Taxes, All Tax Units, by Expanded Cash Income Percentile, 2021," Aug. 5, 2021

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A rip on AOC’s dress misses with claim that the top 1% pay 90% of income taxes

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