Luzerne County is home to more wealthy people – those earning $250,000 or more per year – than any other county in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
But five counties in the region are thicker with rich people, percentage-wise, according to a recent report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
The Harrisburg-based center, which bills itself as a nonpartisan, statewide policy research project, reviewed 2010 personal income tax data for each county, posted online annually by the state Department of Revenue. The center looked at the tables that break down the number of taxpayers into 22 taxable income ranges, with the highest range set at $250,000 or more.
Based on that analysis, the center contends that President Barack Obama's proposal to eliminate Bush-era tax cuts on those individuals earning $250,000 or more would impact less than 1 percent of all taxpayers in more than half of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.
Luzerne is one of those, but barely: Of 146,229 taxpayers, 1,450 earned $250,000 or more – that's 0.99 percent.
By comparison, Lackawanna County has fewer taxpayers hitting the $250,000 threshold, but they make up a larger percentage of total taxpayers: 1,187 of 95,679 taxpayers, or 1.24 percent.
In a brief report, the center highlights data that suggest letting tax breaks expire for high-income earners would affect a small minority statewide:
• In 24 counties, fewer than 200 high-income earners would pay the higher tax rate.
• In seven counties, fewer than 1 in 200 (0.5 percent) of taxpayers would be impacted. Carbon County is among those, where there were 29, 371 taxpayers in 2010, with 120 – 0.41 percent – earning $250,000 or more.
• In six other counties, fewer than 1 in 150 (0.7 percent) would be impacted. Schuylkill County is on that list, with 66,005 taxpayers, of which 383 (0.58 percent) hit $250,000.
• In another 24 counties – including Luzerne, Columbia, Monroe, Pike and Wayne – less than 1 percent of taxpayers earned $250,000 or more in 2010.
Generally speaking, in 12 counties of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the farther south the county is, the lower the percentage of people in that $250,000-plus category.
But the percentages can be skewed by sparse populations because small numbers of wealthy people can be a large percentage of the total.
Sullivan County is a good example, where 1.3 percent of all taxpayers made $250,000 or more in 2010. But that 1.3 percent is only 38 people out of 2,914 taxpayers. In Luzerne County, 38 taxpayers would be a scant 0.026 percent.
Statewide, there were 111,338 people in the top tax bracket, 1.99 percent of the 5,605,923 taxpayers in 2010.
The percentage of people hitting the high tax bracket might be small, but they can make a good chunk of a county's total income.
The report notes that in 14 counties, taxpayers earning more than $250,000 account for less than 10 percent of total county income; in another 19 counties, taxpayers earning more than $250,000 account for 15 percent or less of county income.
The report doesn't provide county-level data for those calculations, but the numbers are available on the state website.
In Luzerne County, total taxable income was just short of $6 billion. Of that, those earning $250,000 or more netted almost $936 million. So while top earners made up only 0.99 percent of all taxpayers, they took in 15.6 percent of all taxable income.