WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. incomes plummeted again in 2009, with total income down 15.2 percent in real terms since 2007, new tax data showed on Wednesday.
The data showed an alarming drop in the number of taxpayers reporting any earnings from a job — down by nearly 4.2 million from 2007 — meaning every 33rd household that had work in 2007 had no work in 2009.
Average income in 2009 fell to $54,283, down $3,516, or 6.1 percent in real terms compared with 2008, the first Internal Revenue Service analysis of 2009 tax returns showed. Compared with 2007, average income was down $8,588 or 13.7 percent.
Average income in 2009 was at its lowest level since 1997 when it was $54,265 in 2009 dollars, just $18 less than in 2009. The data come from annual Statistics of Income tables that were updated Wednesday.
The average tax rate was 11.4 percent, up from 10.5 percent in 2007, the Internal Revenue Service data showed.
No income tax was paid by 1,470 of the 235,413 taxpayers earning $1 million or more in 2009, compared with the 959 taxpayers with million-dollar-plus incomes who paid no income taxes in 2007.
Total adjusted gross income reported on tax returns, measured in 2009 dollars, was $7.626 trillion, down from $8.233 trillion in 2008 and $8.989 trillion in 2007.
Total adjusted gross income was up only slightly from the $7.475 trillion reported in 2001, when there were 10 million fewer taxpayers. Adjusted gross income is the amount on the last line of the front page of a Form 1040 tax return.
The data from tax returns showed a startling drop in the total number of taxpayers reporting any wages. A taxpayer, as defined by the IRS, can be an individual or a married couple. The data showed almost 4.2 million fewer taxpayers reported wages in 2009 than in 2007, with about 116.7 million taxpayers reporting wages and salaries in 2009 — down from about 120.8 million in 2007.
Average wages fell, too, sliding $1,106 to $48,917 from $50,023 in 2007.
The number of tax returns filed fell to 140.5 million, down almost 2 million compared with 2007, as millions of Americans went from working to having no earned income or so little that they did not have to file a tax return.
The number of Americans reporting incomes of $10 million or more also plunged even more than the steep drop in income for the population as a whole.
Just 8,274 taxpayers reported income of $10 million or more in 2009, down 55 percent from 18,394 in 2007. Compared with 2007, total real income of these top earners in 2009 fell 58.6 percent to $240.1 billion, but average income slipped just 8.1 percent to $29 million.
While the number of people who earned enough income to file a tax return fell, the share of those filing who paid no income tax rose to 41.7 percent of tax returns in 2009, up from 36.4 percent in 2008.
The average income of those filing but paying no tax was $14,483.
The share of households filing a tax return but paying no income tax results from two key factors:
* One is the drop in incomes because a married couple does not pay income tax until they make at least $18,300, and families with two children pay no income tax until they make more than $40,000 under policies started in 1997 and since expanded at the behest of Congressional Republicans, many of whom complain that too many households do not pay income taxes.
* The second reason was that in 2009, nearly all working taxpayers received the temporary Making Work Pay Tax Credit sponsored by President Obama, which saved as much as $400 ($800 for married couples) in federal income taxes in 2009. The credit continued in 2010, but then ended.
(This story is corrected in the 14th paragraph to make clear the years of taxpayer
(Reporting and writing by David Cay Johnston in Singapore;
Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh in Washington and Jan Paschal in New York)