Each year, the Tax Foundation honors state legislators, executives, and other individuals with its Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform award. As the name suggests, the honoree's accomplishments...
- The Tax Policy Blog
- The Inequality Debate Ignores How Incomes Change Over the...
The Inequality Debate Ignores How Incomes Change Over the Life Cycle
Income data from the IRS and the Census Bureau have their uses, but measuring equality isn’t one of them. This is because income data lacks context.
A single year snapshot of income data misses how income fluctuates significantly over the course of an individual’s life. For example, a person who is a poor medical student today will later be a doctor who makes a high salary.
In fact, the average tax return for an 18- to 25-year-old shows about $15,000 in adjusted gross income where an average tax return for someone between ages 55 and 64 shows above $80,000.
The chart below illustrates how the income on the average tax return changes over the life cycle. Put simply, the average person is poor when they’re young and become relatively rich as they progress in their careers.
We expand on this example and more in a new report that illustrates the flaws in using income tax data to measure inequality.
Get Email Updates from the Tax Foundation
We will never sell or share your information with third parties.
Join the Tax Foundation's fight for sound tax policy Go
About the Tax Policy Blog
The Tax Policy Blog is the official blog of the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit research organization that has monitored tax policy at the federal, state and local levels since 1937. Our economists welcome your feedback. If you would like to send an e-mail to the author of a blog post, please click on that person's name to locate his or her e-mail address or visit our staff page here.