Morning Joe Claims Romney Pays Lower Tax Rate Than Secretaries—But Numbers Suggest That Isn't So

January 18th, 2012 8:57 AM

We'll leave it to others to assess the political fallout from Mitt Romney's statement yesterday that he paid about 15% in federal income taxes.  But let's at least get some facts straight.

On Morning Joe today, Joe Scarborough claimed that the revelations about Mitt Romney's taxes might be his Dukakis-in-the-tank moment.  Scarborough repeated the shibboleth Warren Buffett put into circulation that at 15%, the super-rich like Romney pay a lower tax rate than secretaries. But is that so? Running the numbers suggest otherwise.  See video and analysis after the jump.

First, we need to know how much that mythical secretary makes.  According to, there are three levels of secretary: I, II and III.  For our analysis, let's take the mid level, Secretary II. says that the average Secretary II makes an annual salary of $37,836.

So how much federal income tax would be paid on that income?  I ran the numbers through the official IRS calculator, using the assumptions that would result in the highest income tax; i.e., I assumed the secretary would have no dependents, make no tax deductible contributions to a savings plan, and have no itemized deductions.  The IRS says that on those assumptions, Secretary II would pay $3,776 in federal income taxes.  That equates to a tax rate of 9.97%, almost exactly 1/3 lower than Romney's 15%.  

Note: using the same assumptions, the top-level Secretary III [average salary $43,715] would pay a rate of 10.6%.  On the other end of the spectrum, a single-parent Secretary I [average salary $33,418] with one child would pay 4.6%.


After rolling tape of Romney's statement . . .

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: 15% capital gains tax rate.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: This is a problem on a lot of levels. Mark Halperin, campaigns are sometimes defined in a moment that the candidate doesn't realize. We can go back--I don't want to overstate this--but we can go back to Michael Dukakis in the tank. We can go back to 1980 and Ronald Reagan saying Mr. Green, I paid for this mic in Nashua.  In this case you've got a guy worth $250 million talking about how he's paying a lower tax rate than most secretaries, something we talk about on this set all the time.