With the Bush tax cuts scheduled to expire on Jan. 1, 2013, tax fairness is likely to be a prominent topic throughout the presidential campaign. The figure below provides some context for the debate over tax fairness, charting declines in effective tax rates for households at different points in the income distribution since 1995.
The clear finding is that average effective tax rates have fallen more for high-income households over this time period; more than 9 percentage points for the top 0.01 percent of households and more than 6 percentage points for other households in the top 1 percent. Effective tax rates have also fallen for households between the 20th and 99th percentile, but by less than 3 percentage points.
While the Bush tax cuts explain much of this asymmetric fall in rates, the decline in capital gains taxes that took effect in 1997 also contributed to lowering the tax rates of higher-income households—as the bulk of capital gains are realized by this group.