Business in the United States: Who Owns it and How Much Tax Do They Pay?

Publication Year


Book Chapter

"Pass-through” businesses like partnerships and S-corporations now generate over half of U.S. business income and account for much of the post-1980 rise in the top- 1% income share. We use administrative tax data from 2011 to identify pass-through business owners and estimate how much tax they pay. We present three findings. (1) Relative to traditional business income, pass-through business income is substantially more concentrated among high-earners. (2) Partnership ownership is opaque: 20% of the income goes to unclassifiable partners, and 15% of the income is earned in circularly owned partnerships. (3) The average federal income tax rate on U.S. pass- through business income is 19%|much lower than the average rate on traditional corporations. If pass-through activity had remained at 1980's low level, strong but straightforward assumptions imply that the 2011 average U.S. tax rate on total U.S. business income would have been 28% rather than 24%, and tax revenue would have been approximately $100 billion higher.

Links: Video of Presentation. Discussion with Jim PoterbaNBER Interview on Tax Policy and the Economy.
Coverage: NBER Digest Summary,WSJ,WSJ,Washington PostPBS, Fiscal TimesWSJ,PoliticoPoliticoBloombergNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesCapital IdeasNew York TimesNew York Times.

Book Title
Tax Policy and the Economy
MIT Press