The top 1 percent.
Protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement demonize the nation’s highest income earners, noting the growing financial inequity between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else.
Those inequities also exist in Maine, of course, although at a level below the national average. And in Maine, the top 1 percent is likely to be a neighbor.
Maine has 6,838 tax filers who have annual incomes in the top 1 percent of all residents, with the largest concentration living in Portland, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth and Scarborough, according to data generated by Maine Revenue Services for The Portland Press Herald.
Taken together, these households have an average annual income of $810,805. The top-ranking Maine community by income is Cape Elizabeth, home to 338 tax filers in the top 1 percent, with average earnings of roughly $1.1 million.
The average annual income of the top 1 percent of all Americans is $3.9 million, according to an analysis reported recently in The New York Times.
The Maine statistics complement a report released last month by the Congressional Budget Office showing that real, after-tax income grew by 275 percent from 1979 to 2007 for the top 1 percent of the population with the highest income. By comparison, the six out of 10 residents in the middle of the scale saw real income rise by under 40 percent during the period.
This national trend information isn’t available on a state level. But the Maine data offers a local snapshot of this select income group in Maine. It is based on a computer model extrapolated by the agency to 2007, and pegged to the same income formula used by the Congressional Budget Office.
What the Maine model won’t do, for confidentiality reasons, is identify the tax filers or their specific sources of income, such as occupations.
“It’s a unique group,” said Michael Allen, director of economic research at Maine Revenue Services. “But there are a number of reasons why people are in this top group. I don’t think there’s one particular story you can tell about this group.”
The computer model also doesn’t include Maine’s well-off summer residents, who may file taxes in other states. And because the information is based on tax returns, it doesn’t capture the sum of potential wealth, such as property holdings.
For these and other reasons, targeting the “top 1 percent” may be more of a symbolic gesture in the Occupy movement, one that’s subjective and open to interpretation.
By its nature, the Occupy movement doesn’t have a leader or spokesman. But a lawyer who represents the Portland occupation in Lincoln Park said it’s his view that participants are more concerned about the unequal distribution of wealth and corporate influence than personal income.
“You don’t see people going to Cape (Elizabeth) and Falmouth to demonstrate by the homes,” said John Branson. “The focus isn’t on the folks living in the suburbs of Portland.”
The Maine figures do show the state’s top 1 percent of earners are clustered in Portland and its suburbs. These communities are home to some of the state’s leading businesses, including law firms, medical practices and financial services.
But a review of occupational employment and wage estimates compiled by the Department of Labor offers little help in revealing the overall sources of income among these professionals. For statistical and confidentiality reasons, wage estimates for surgeons, dentists and other medical fields, for instance, are blank.
“For these people, wages may be a small percent of what they earn,” said Glenn Mills, economic research director at the Labor Department.
In the budget office study, wages and salaries are only one component of what researchers call “market income.” Other contributors are business income, capital gains from the sale of assets, capital income such as dividends, and retirement income.
To set its top 1 percent benchmark, the budget office used market income plus “transfer income,” which includes Social Security payments, Medicare and other government benefits. By that measure, a tax-filing household needed to earn $352,875 in 2007 to be in the top 1 percent.
At Maine Revenue Services, Allen plugged in a similar formula that his agency uses to measure income and how the state’s tax burden is distributed. In sum, it shows that the 6,838 tax filers had a total income of more than $5.5 billion, or an average of $810,805.
Portland was home to 505 top 1 percent filers, with an average income of $876,601. Falmouth had 379 filers, with an average income of $939,306. They were followed by Cape Elizabeth, with 338 filers and $1,096,988 of income; Yarmouth, with 239 filers and $843,726 of income; and Scarborough, with 223 filers and $914,115 of income.
Next in line were Brunswick, Auburn, Biddeford, Kennebunk and South Portland, rounding out the top 10, by population. Coastal communities were well-represented, including Freeport, Cumberland, York, Camden, Harpswell, Rockport, Wells and Kennebunkport.
Farther down the list, but notable, was Windham. The lakes-region town has 69 filers with an average income of more than $1 million, second only to Cape Elizabeth. Windham’s sample size is small, however, so the income figure could be skewed by a few, super-wealthy residents, according to Mills.
Maine Revenue Services also recorded hundreds of other top 1 percent filers in various communities. But to protect confidentiality, it declined to release locations with fewer than 50 top filers.
These average income figures are clearly large by Maine standards. The per-capita income here in 2007 was $34,930.
But even these figures fail to capture the accumulation of wealth and influence that are at the root of the Occupy movement’s resentment, Branson said. He cites other studies showing that the top 1 percent of American earners control 42 percent of the nation’s wealth.
“There’s a lot of focus on billionaires,” he said. “Most public policies are designed to benefit this group.”
In Maine, however, lawmakers did consider income distribution when crafting the state’s biennial budget this year. The budget included $150 million in tax cuts – the largest in state history – with most taking effect in 2013.
Income tax data generated by Allen’s office shows the state’s poorest taxpayers will see average taxes fall by more than 86 percent. By comparison, the top 1 percent will see a drop of only 6.7 percent.