Real Estate Papers

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Working Paper

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NBER Book Series Tax Policy and the Economy



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Using tract-level data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 censuses, we estimate how the income tax-related benefits to owner-occupiers are distributed spatially across the United States. Even though the top marginal tax rate has fallen substantially since 1979 and the tax code more generally has become less progressive, the tax subsidy per household or owner was virtually unchanged between 1979-1989, and then rose substantially between 1989-1999. Geographically, gross program benefits have been and remain very spatially targeted. At the state level, California’s owners have received a disproportionate share of the subsidy flows over the past two decades. Their share of the gross benefits nationally has fluctuated from 19 to 22 percent. Depending upon the year, this is from 1.8 to 2.3 times their share of the nation’s owners. For the median state, the ratio of its share of tax benefits to its share of owners has declined over time, from 0.83 in 1979 to 0.76 in 1999. Examining the data at the metropolitan area level finds an even more dramatic spatial targeting, and a spatial skewness that is increasing over time. Comparing benefit flows in 1979 in the top 20 areas versus those in the bottom 20 areas finds that owners in the highest subsidy areas received from 2.7 to 8.0 times the subsidy reaped by owners in the bottom group. By 1999, the analogous calculation finds owners in the top 20 areas receiving from 3.4 to 17.1 times more benefits than owners in any of the 20 lowest recipient areas. Despite the increasing skewness, the top subsidy recipient areas tend to persist over time. In particular, the very high benefit per owner areas are heavily concentrated in California and the New York City to Boston corridor. While taxes are somewhat higher in these places, it is high and rising house prices which appear most responsible for the large and increasing skewness in the spatial distribution of benefits.



Date Posted: 27 November 2017