Income of 400 richest Americans doubled during Bush era
Jeremy Gantz
Published: Saturday January 31, 2009

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The 21st century Gilded Age party really got going before the U.S. economy went bust.

It was a party disproportionately enjoyed by high-income Americans, the 400 wealthiest of which actually doubled their share of all U.S. income between 1996 and 2006, new statistics released by the Internal Revenue Service show.

And during the first six years of George W. Bush's presidency, the average income of those 400 people actually doubled to $263.3 million, according to the data.

Between 2005 and 2006, those 400 Americans saw their income rise nearly 23 percent, and through the first six years of the Bush administration their average tax rate fall by a third, to 17.2 percent, Bloomberg reported.

That 17.2 percent tax rate was the lowest the group has paid on average since the IRS began keeping track of the country's 400 biggest taxpayers in 1992, the agency's data shows.

The big reduction -- from 2001's 22.9 percent tax rate for the group -- was "due largely" to ex-President George W. Bush’s push to cut tax rates on most capital gains to 15 percent in 2003, Bloomberg reported. Bush administration tax cuts that benefit the wealthy will expire by 2011, unless extended or made permanent by Congress and the president.

The IRS released the new data Thursday, one day before the government revealed the U.S. economy contracted 3.8 percent during the final quarter of 2008, its fastest rate since 1982.

"Until recently, we had a financial system that rewarded investors, and we have a tax system that does as well," said Robert McIntyre, the director of Citizens for Tax Justice, in this International Herald Tribune article.

Now wealthy people, McIntyre said, pay income tax rates far less than those of working-class citizens because of tax breaks. The current 15 percent capital gains tax, down from 28 percent in 1997, benefits investors with big portfolios, the International Herald Tribune reported.

“The conservative approach of putting big corporations and the very wealthy ahead of the middle class has failed to create prosperity that can be shared by all Americans," writes Think Progress.

The 400 richest U.S. taxpayers in 2006 paid slightly more than $18 billion in U.S. government income taxes in 2006 -- an average of $45 million -- on a record $105 billion in total income.

The combined taxes paid by all other individual taxpayers was nearly $1 trillion in 2006, the new IRS data shows.