New Report Reveals Names Of America’s Biggest Earners And Avoiders

America’s richest billionaires—including the likes of Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Ken Griffin—were among the highest earners between 2013 and 2018, but that didn’t mean they paid the highest income tax rates, as detailed by a new ProPublica report that cites confidential Internal Revenue Service data.

Key Facts

The new report from ProPublica on Wednesday details the 400 Americans reporting the highest adjusted gross incomes from 2013 to 2018, with the bottom of the list averaging $110 million per year, as well as how much they paid in federal income taxes.

Ten of the top 15 highest incomes during that period were realized by tech billionaires—who generally make income from selling stock, headlined by the likes of Bill Gates ($2.85 billion in average yearly income) and Michael Bloomberg ($2.05 billion).

The largest group—accounting for around a fifth of the 400 highest earners— were hedge fund managers raking in trading revenue, with notable figures including Citadel founder Ken Griffin ($1.68 billion in average yearly income), Susquehanna co-founder Jeffrey Yass ($1.3 billion), as well as Two-Sigma cofounders John Overdeck and David Siegel ($1.17 billion each).

Also prominent on the list but not cracking the 15 highest earners were corporate executives, private equity firm founders and heirs to business empires such as the Walton and DeVos families.

While the rate of income tax typically increases the higher up you go, that trend tops out at the $2 million to $5 million range, with that group paying an average income tax rate of 29% from 2013 to 2018, according to ProPublica’s analysis of IRS’ publicly reported data.

Average income tax rates, especially for America’s ultra-wealthy, drop from there, however: Collectively, the top 400 highest-earners paid an average income tax rate of about 22% during that period, the report found.

Key Background:

Many billionaires with high income achieve lower tax rates through a variety of means, such as stock sales that are taxed at lower rates. Much of their income is derived from long term capital gains and dividends, which are generally taxed at a lower rate than wages, interest or other “ordinary” income. The top 400 saved an average of $1.9 billion in taxes each year due to lower taxes on stock dividends which were part of the 2003 Bush tax cuts, according to ProPublica’s report. Some wealthy individuals, and particularly tech billionaires, can also dramatically lower their taxes with a special break for the donation of highly appreciated stock–they get to take a charitable deduction for the full market value of the stock without ever being taxed on the appreciation.

What To Watch For:

Tax rates also vary among the different groups of billionaires. Nine owners of manufacturing companies paid a higher average rate of 30%, ProPublica calculated, because they ran their businesses as passthroughs–meaning the business itself pays no income tax, but passes through its earnings to the owners, in their case as higher taxed ordinary income. Hedge fund and private equity managers also often operate as pass-throughs, but their earnings were taxed at an average of only 26% and 22%, respectively, with the private equity managers in particular benefiting from the controversial carried-interest loophole, which lets them treat much of their management fee as low taxed capital gains rather than higher taxed ordinary income. Tech billionaires in particular paid rates well below average, of around 17%, as high incomes from stock sales were taxed at lower capital gains rates and they made use of the charitable break for appreciated stock.


Other notable names mentioned in ProPublica’s analysis of the Americans with the highest average yearly incomes include the Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs ($1.57 billion), Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison ($1.07 billion), Amazon founder and Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos ($832 million), Meta cofounder Mark Zuckerberg ($652 million) and Tesla CEO Elon Musk ($254 million).

Author Profile

Paul McDonald
Paul McDonald
Photo Editor

Paul is a freelance photograher and graphic designer and has worked on our most recent media kit.


Leave a Reply