MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATORS APPROVED the so-called Fair Share Amendment last week, setting the stage for it to appear on the 2018 statewide ballot, where voters will decide whether to impose a “millionaire’s tax” on top income-earners to fund transportation and education.

Critics will undoubtedly raise one important question: If the state passes this tax, will large numbers of millionaires move away?

Big data can answer this question, since Massachusetts is not the first to have a tax on very high incomes. And federal income tax data contains a virtual census of America’s millionaires, showing where they live and where they move. Are millionaires highly mobile? Do they tend to move from high-tax to low-tax states?

I have studied these issues for years, working with a colleague at Stanford University and with researchers at the US Department of Treasury. We analyzed the (de-identified) tax returns of every million-dollar income earner in the United States over 13 years.

Here’s the bottom line: Overall, millionaires are deeply embedded in place.

Millionaires tend to stay in the states where they live and where they became successful. Often, the very things that made them millionaires (like a lucrative job, a successful business, or a powerful set of connections and personal contacts) make it difficult for them to pick up and move. They also tend to have families and children, and be long past the age when migration is common. The annual state-to-state migration rate of millionaires is only 2.4 percent – much lower, in fact, than the migration rate among the poor (4.5 percent).

When millionaires do move, it is usually for personal reasons rather than because of taxes. Often, they move to states with the same or even higher income tax rates. When some move out, others move in. The notable exception is Florida – a land of sunshine, golf courses, and no state income tax. This state is the single favorite destination of mobile millionaires. States that pass millionaire taxes are likely to see some additional millionaires moving to Florida. But, based on the experience of other states, the migrations are too small to matter very much. The amount of additional, tax-induced migration from modestly higher top tax rate states — even over the long term — represents a tiny fraction of the millionaire population. More than 99 percent of millionaires remain in state. Like others that have passed a millionaire tax, Massachusetts will raise substantial new revenues.

The highest migration rates in America are not among the rich, but rather among young people fresh out of college or graduate school. Young graduates have an annual state-to-state migration rate (12 percent) that is five times that of millionaires.

States have little ability to attract the highest-income earners, but they can work to attract and retain a pipeline of future high-income earners. These young people are deciding where to live long before they hit their peak income-earning years (which usually come  in their 50s). Right now, they do not care much about millionaire taxes, because if they ever pay the tax, it will be decades in the future. And once they have an established career, they are not likely to move again.

Millionaire taxes are paid by people with late-career success and good fortune. Used prudently, the tax dollars can fund education, infrastructure, and public services that matter most for young, early-career individuals. In this sense, taxes on millionaires can be a way for late-career elites to help endow a prosperous future for the next generation.

Cristobal Young is an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University. His forthcoming book is called The Myth of Millionaire Tax Flight: Why Place Still Matters for the Rich.

10 replies on “Taxes don’t make millionaires move”

  1. Duh, of course not all millionaires move. Many have income tied to their business located in a high tax state. But they can often move the business. And if their occupations are portable or their investments passive, they don’t have to endure the inconvenience of leaving their friends and actually moving. They just register to vote and register their cars from their home in Palm Beach. Easy.

  2. Please explain how the IRS divulged to you the “deidentified” tax information they by law must keep confidential. This sounds to me like another one of those articles where “facts” are made up to support a theory. Companies and individuals for decades have been moving to legally avoid taxation.

  3. All manner of government data are made available AND it doesn’t take rocket science to “deidentify” tax return data.

  4. A couple of unmentioned points.

    One is that Florida has a very curious as well as unique homestead law that allows people facing big money creditors to protect their money by paying cash for opulent expensive homes and then take out cash via a home equity line of credit until their creditors drop their claims and/or the statutes of limitations on the claims expire.

    And for another, it is not all that difficult for many high income people to participate in investments that yield considerable tax credits and so lower their net annual income figure used for income tax determination.

  5. As an apparent baseball fan, you surely have more than a passing familiarity with baseball stats.

    Say what you may, a player’s batting average is but a summary calculation which does NOT include a physical display of ANY the underlying hit.

    In turn, releasing general overview sorts aggregated data that are NOT identified to a SPECIFIC individual person’s tax return is NOT the releasing of an individual tax return.

    For example, providing the number of people in a particular locale (e.g., MA) – WITHOUT noting any of their names – who filed tax returns with income net of deductions over a million dollars is allowed.

    Next, in response to an early post of yours, I NEVER noted that the IRS divulged to me “…”deidentified” tax information they by law must keep confidential.”

    Additionally, NEITHER did I ever note that the IRS releases individual tax returns.

    At the same time, it would appear safe to suggest that your jumping to baseless conclusions would appear to be as sloppy as your thought processes.

    Oh, and think what you may to the contrary, the production of tax records can be ordered by various courts.

  6. Did you fail to read down to Section (c) Disclosure of returns and return information to designee of taxpayer – and thereafter?

    As is clearly noted in this text, disclosure of tax returns is allowed in a variety of circumstances as well as in ways consistent with what I have noted above.

    At the same, your stated position of no release of tax information is in error.

  7. You better look again. You have to have a bona fide reason other than a fishing expedition to get a judge or any one else to force the release of a tax return.

  8. I see that you are continuing to try walkback from your previous misstatements and assertions that I said things which I never did.

    Oh, and trust me: anyone who reads this thread and is also sentient will feel similarly.

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