Visualizing Where Your Taxes Go


With DC embroiled in budget battles and April 18 fast approaching, a lot of Americans are thinking about where their federal tax dollars go. Most of us have no clue, as shown by the recent CNN survey in which respodents guessed that NPR accounts for 5 percent of goverment spending (wrong—it’s more like 0.01 percent) and foreign aid gets 10 percent (try 0.6 percent).

Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?For an informative and visually interesting look at how your taxes really break down, check out the six finalists from the recent Data Viz Challenge sponsored by What We Pay For. The most creative is Budget Climb, an interactive game that uses a Microsoft Kinect motion controller so you run around a virtual world made of 26 years of budget data. If you don’t want to work up a sweat, a better place to start is Anil Kandangath’s Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?, a straightforward site that asks you for your income, estimates your income and payroll taxes, and then shows your personal contribution to the federal budget in an Excelerrific (functional but not pretty) pie chart.

Can I Get a Receipt With That?Can I Get a Receipt With That?There’s also some clever stuff in the entries that didn’t make the final cut. My favorite may be Can I Get a Receipt With That?, which generates a cash-register receipt for your tax bill—and can convert the bill into alternative currencies such as Big Macs and Starbucks coffees. For example, the 2010 tax bill for a typical American family earning $50,000 comes out to about 1,752 Chipotle burritos. From that, the feds spent about 2,811 bottles of Bud Light on defense, 244 packs of cigarettes on Medicare, and 13 Red Bulls on energy spending. Unfortunately, it does not show how many decaf soy lattes went to NPR.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate