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America’s Top 15 Earners and What They Reveal About the U.S. Tax System

William Rapfogel, left, then the head of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attend the social service agency's annual legislative breakfast in 2008. PHOTO: Metropolitan Council/JTA

An unprecedented trove of leaked IRS data shows who reported the most income in America from 2013 to 2018, as well as their tax rates, revealing that the very richest pay lower rates than the merely rich.

PRO PUBLICA — Periodically, we get a glimpse into the financial lives of the ultrarich. A pro athlete signs a huge contract, a tech CEO sells a boatload of shares in their company, or a billionaire heir unloads a Manhattan penthouse. Based on these nuggets of information, the media speculates as to how much income the rich might bring in every year. But nobody actually knows.

Thanks to an analysis of its unprecedented trove of IRS data, ProPublica is revealing the 15 people who reported the most U.S. income on their taxes from 2013 to 2018, along with data for the rest of the top 400.

The analysis also shows how much they paid in federal income taxes — and it demonstrates how the American tax system, which theoretically makes the highest earners pay the highest income tax rates, fails to do so for the people at the very top of the income pyramid. The top 400 earners pay noticeably lower tax rates than the merely rich; and, if you include payroll taxes, a married couple making $200,000 a year could end up paying higher tax rates than a person making $200 million a year. (The full analysis is here; it includes selected names beyond the top 15.) […]

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