As a percentage of income, that is. How many Americans would have guessed this was true?
Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.
I actually don't find it all that surprising. Here's one list of contributing factors:
Three big reasons: The stimulus was in fact a major tax cutter, and increasingly progressive tax rates means that as we've fallen in income, we've fallen into lower tax rates. What's more, we're consuming less, so spending less on taxes.
I don't think these are the best explanations. The stimulus plan did include tax cuts, but they weren't especially large and if the fiscal multiplier is above one then they could have increased tax revenue (because one person's spending is another person's income, which increases income taxes plus sales and other taxes accrued along the way).
Tax rates are not "increasingly progressive" relative to the previous 60 years. In fact, the opposite is true. However the tax structure is still somewhat progressive, and this recession is especially nasty (graph taken from DeLong):
I'm not sure we're consuming less, relative to income. Here's a graph of net national saving from Bloomberg, showing that savings are the lowest since the Great Depression:
I think the best explanation is the simplest: tax receipts have fallen as a percentage of income because this recession has been so severe, and originated in the real estate sector. As house prices have dropped and foreclosures have risen, property tax receipts have fallen. The other explanations may be contributing factors, but are not unique to this recession.