Pop Quiz: Who Are the 47%, and What Do They Really Pay in Taxes?

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Mitt RomneyEarlier this week, Mother Jones released a tape in which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized the estimated 47% of Americans who don't pay federal income tax. While Romney's comments may have cost him some political points, they also re-energized a long-running public debate over who pays into America's system, and who reaps its rewards. With that in mind, we compiled a short quiz about the taxation system. If you think you know how America's taxation works -- or just want to learn a little more -- take a peek!

Pop Quiz: Who Are the 47% -- And How Much Do They REALLY Pay?
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Pop Quiz: Who Are the 47%, and What Do They Really Pay in Taxes?

A. 46%
B. 32%
C. 18%
D. 10%

Most tax filers pay payroll taxes like Social Security and Medicare. In fact, only 18.1% don't send anything to the Federal government. Of these, almost 57% are elderly, and don't bring home a regular paycheck.

A. 1.2 million
B. 162,000
C. 53,000
D. 2,000

More than 162,000 people who are among the top 10% of all earners -- basically, those who make over $163,173 -- didn't pay any federal income tax in 2011. Among the top 0.1% of filers -- the richest households in the country -- 3,000 (2.3% of them) didn't pay income tax in 2011.

A. Red states
B. Blue states
C. They're about equally distributed

Of the 20 states with the highest percentage of non-income tax-paying filers, twelve are firmly in the red camp. On the opposite end of the spectrum, just three of the 20 lowest-percentage states skew red.

A. 41%
B. 37%
C. 23%
D. 12%

In terms of total effective tax rate -- the total percentage of income that a taxpayer sends to the federal government, from excise taxes, corporate taxes, payroll taxes, and other levies -- the poorest fifth of Americans pays an average of 17.4%. The top 1% pays 29%, so they pay 11.6% more than the poorest 20%.

A. 67%
B. 51%
C. 34%
D. 19%

The top 20% of taxpayers pay 63.1% of all taxes and take home 59.6% of all income. In fact, all income groups pay a percentage of the total federal tax revenue that is almost equal to the percentage of America's income that they take home.

A. The bottom 20% of earners 

B. The top 1% of earners

While state taxes vary depending on where you live, every state hits the working class harder than the top 1%. The best state is Vermont, where the richest 1% pay 7.5% of their income and the poorest 20% pay 8.2% -- or 1.1 times as much. The worst state is Washington, where the richest pay a measly 2.6% of their income and the poorest pay a staggering 17.3% -- or 6.7 times as much.

A. 20%
B. 13%
C. 7%
D. 1%

In terms of total effective tax rate -- the actual percentage of income paid into taxes, accounting for all credits, exemptions, deductions, and so forth -- the richest 1% of the country pays 29% of its income. The middle 20% pays 28.3%, or 0.7% less. For that matter, it's worth noting that the poorest 20%, the group least likely to pay federal income tax, still sends 17.4% of its wages to the taxman.


Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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