Tax hike on the rich would impact just 3% of taxpayers

August 11, 2011: 1:51 PM ET
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- As the government looks for ways to climb out of its massive hole of debt, all eyes are on the rich.

President Obama and many of his fellow Democrats continue to call for higher taxes on the wealthy. And, according to results of a CNN/ORC International Poll released Wednesday, many Americans agree that it's the only way the country can dig itself out of its current economic mess.

In the survey, 63% of the 1,008 people interviewed over the phone said they think the new bipartisan committee in charge of deficit reduction (required under the recent debt ceiling agreement) should raise taxes on higher-income Americans and businesses.

But just how many rich people are there? And are there enough of them for a tax increase to really make a dent in the United States' trillions of dollars in debt?

President Obama has defined the nation's wealthy as those who make $200,000 or more a year.

Debt ceiling: What Obama wants in taxes

According to a recent report from the Internal Revenue Service, that leaves out about 97% of the tax-paying population.

The report, which provides a complete breakdown and analysis of returns for the 2009 tax year, found that only a mere 3% of tax returns were filed by people earning a gross adjusted income of $200,000 or more.

Americans earning $1 million or more were even more rare, comprising just 0.2% of total tax filers and accounting for a mere 236,883 of the 140 million tax returns received in 2009.

The wealthiest taxpayers -- those earning $10 million or more in adjusted gross income -- are even less prevalent. There were only 8,274 people belonging to that elite club, according the IRS.

Out of the nearly 4 million "rich" people making more than $200,000 a year, 1,470 didn't pay any income tax whatsoever in 2009. But the people who did pay taxes earned a total of nearly $2 trillion in income -- about 26% of total taxpayer income in 2009.

President Obama's tax proposals -- which many Republican's call "job-killing" tax hikes -- include getting rid of some corporate tax breaks enjoyed by oil and gas companies and corporate jet buyers, and restoring some Bush-era tax rates for high-income households. If the Bush tax cuts expire as planned in 2012, the top two income tax rates will revert to 39.6% and 36% from 35% and 33%, respectively.

Yet, even though these high-income earners are a minority, Obama says the proposed tax increases would boost revenue by $750 billion over a decade.

It's not quite the multi-trillion figure the U.S. needs to pay off the deficit, but for many of those who responded to the CNN/ORC International poll it's evidently a good enough start.

Has all of the market turmoil prompted you to move all of your retirement investments into cash? If so, we'd like to hear from you. If you'd like to share your story with CNNMoney, email blake.ellis@cnnmoney.com.  To top of page

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