If a modest 2 percent wealth tax on a fraction of the richest households in the U.S. was in place this year, it would have raised enough funds to pay for the next three decades of President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan, new data shows.
A report released by the Institute on Taxation and Policy (ITEP) on Thursday finds that a nationwide 2 percent wealth tax on households worth over $30 million, or the top 0.25 percent of households, would have raised nearly $415 billion this year alone.
This could pay for a wide swath of important federal programs, including Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 of debt for certain borrowers, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated earlier this year will cost $400 billion over the next 30 years.
The wealth tax could also serve as a way to close the gap between the richest and poorest portions of the public — both by potentially uplifting middle- and low-income families and by cutting into wealth hoarded by the wealthiest Americans.
The wealth gap is growing with next to no regulation in place to control it. In its report, ITEP found that over one out of every four dollars of wealth in the U.S. is held by households with a net worth of over $30 million, with an estimated collective $26 trillion in wealth this year.
This is an exceedingly small number of households to own this amount of money. By contrast, according to the Federal Reserve, the bottom 50 percent of Americans own only $4.41 trillion, or about 3 percent of wealth in the U.S.
“Economic inequality in the U.S. is large, growing and highly unpopular,” ITEP wrote. “Excessive concentration of wealth runs counter to our national aspiration for genuine equality of opportunity, and it saps the vitality of our democracy through the consolidation of power and influence.”
ITEP also found that the wealthiest households are concentrated in certain parts of the country; over 21 percent of households worth over $30 million are based in New York, with California, Florida and Texas next at around 10 percent each.
In order to begin reducing wealth inequality, ITEP recommends that lawmakers consider implementing an ongoing or one time tax on unrealized capital gains, which account for an estimated over 40 percent of wealth owned by households worth over $30 million.
Depending on the details of such a tax, ITEP finds that it could raise between $529 billion and $3.9 trillion if implemented on households with over $10 million in wealth.
Progressive lawmakers and advocates have long advocated for a wealth tax, maintaining that it is unethical to allow people to become billionaires or hoard millions of dollars of wealth while other Americans experience homelessness, starve, or are forced to ration medications to survive. Indeed, despite billionaires’ massive wealth, they are often able to exploit the current tax code to pay even lower tax rates than the average American — allowing them to hoard yet more wealth.
Democrats have pushed for a wealth tax in recent years. Last year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) introduced a bill that would implement a 2 percent wealth tax on wealth over $50 million, bumped up to 3 percent on wealth over $1 billion.
And, in his 2023 budget, President Joe Biden proposed the inclusion of a minimum 20 percent tax on income of households worth over $100 million. Though not quite a wealth tax, it would slightly retool what the government views as income to include unrealized capital gains, a step toward what progressives have called for.
The idea of a wealth tax is popular. A Data for Progress survey conducted earlier this year found that Warren’s proposal is supported by 68 percent of likely voters, including 81 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans.