Changes in the Distribution of After-Tax Wealth: Has Income Tax Policy Increased Wealth Inequality?

FEDS Working Paper No. 2015-058

http://dx.doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2015.058

35 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2015

See all articles by Adam Looney

Adam Looney

Brookings Institution; U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis (OTA)

Kevin B. Moore

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Date Written: June 5, 2015

Abstract

A substantial share of the wealth of Americans is held in tax-deferred form such as in retirement accounts or as unrealized capital gains. Most data and statistics on assets and wealth is reported on a pre-tax basis, but pre-tax values include an implicit tax liability and may not provide as accurate a measure of the financial position or material well-being of families. In this paper, we describe the distribution of tax-deferred assets in the SCF from 1989 to 2013, provide new estimates of the income tax liabilities implicit in those assets, and present new statistics on the level and distribution of after-tax net worth. The results of our analysis suggest that, relative to published statistics on pre-tax net worth, the distribution of after-tax wealth is slightly less concentrated at each point in time and the effectiveness of the income tax system in reducing wealth inequality has decreased during the last decade. We find the reduction in the long-term capital gains rate is the primary reason for the muted effectiveness of the income tax system in reducing wealth inequality.

Keywords: Inequality, Taxation, Wealth

JEL Classification: H22, H24

Suggested Citation

Looney, Adam and Moore, Kevin B., Changes in the Distribution of After-Tax Wealth: Has Income Tax Policy Increased Wealth Inequality? (June 5, 2015). http://dx.doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2015.058. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2642452 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2642452

Adam Looney

Brookings Institution ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
2027976068 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.brookings.edu/experts/looneya.aspx

U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis (OTA) ( email )

1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20220
United States

Kevin B. Moore (Contact Author)

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System ( email )

20th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20551
United States

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