Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wealth, Redistributed

For fifteen years, from 1982 until 1997, I was a single mother on active duty. (I’m still single and still a mother, but I no longer have financial responsibility for the tykes, the youngest of whom is 29.) Those were really tough years financially. I didn’t make a lot of money, and if I hadn’t had a house with a low mortgage payment and people who looked out for me, I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through that period of my life. Sometimes friends would donate their old furniture to me. One sold me a car; another, later, helped me buy a different used car. A few times, friends came over and did minor home repairs. One once found me a deal on a new central air compressor.

I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t on welfare. I had three kids, a full time job, and all of those 15 years I was working on several college degrees, ending with a master’s the year after my youngest child turned 18. But I had very little money.

In short, times were tough, financially and otherwise.

One “person” who looked out for me was my Uncle Sam. Because we have a graduated income tax system under which people pay according to their means, I received tax breaks for my “head of household” status and for my three minor dependents. I don’t have easy access to my old tax records, but I probably paid well less than $1500 in federal income taxes in 1997, the last year I qualified as head of household and had a dependent other than myself. For argument’s sake, let’s say it was $1500.

In 1998, I became, for tax purposes, a “single” person. I no longer maintained a household for dependent children and had only myself as an exemption. My taxes might have skyrocketed, but for the next three years, ironically, I made even less money than before, in part because my previous job had ended with my boss’ retirement and I was teaching part time. For a while there, I also had a very crummy low-wage mortgage company job (with one of those companies that recently was bought out just before it collapsed). My income was even lower, but due to my new status, my taxes increased somewhat.

Six years ago, I obtained a full-time teaching job, and my income increased considerably, although I am still hardly a top-wage earner. Last year I made about $46,000, including summer work. Next year it’ll be a lot less because I will have little or no summer employment.

In 2007, I paid $5300 in federal income taxes. This means that over a ten year period, I have had an increase in taxes of more than 300%.

I have never once complained about this, and I’m not writing this post to complain now.* Between 1982 and 1997, I was financially insecure, and sometimes financially paralyzed. Now times are better, and I am comfortable enough not to have to worry about how I am going to pay for the groceries or if I’ll be able to make it to the next paycheck. (Other things are more problematic, but I can cover all the basics.)

For this reason – because I am financially stable and can afford all the basics – I think it’s just that I have received that 300% increase. Sure, I’d like to pay fewer taxes, but I haven’t forgotten that when I needed the “wealth redistributed” to me, it was. When I couldn’t afford to pay $5300 in taxes, I wasn’t asked to. And now that I can afford to pay it, I am asked.

On a small scale, this is Barack Obama’s tax plan. Some people can better afford to share the cost of running our country. And those complaining should consider that Obama isn’t asking anyone, not even those making over $250,000 per year, for a 300% increase.

So to those complaining, get over it.

*I have sometimes complained about how the money was spent, but never that I was required to pay it.


Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that while lots of people share your story--it mirrors mine in a number of ways--few see it in those terms. Excellent post.

kkryno said...

I agree with Incertus. If everyone shared your view of sharing the load, we would never have been trapped in the economic policies of the last 8 years.

When McCain says Obama wants to redistribute the wealth, he tries to make it sound dirty or evil somehow. For some reason, I don't buy into that mind-set.

Anonymous said...

You should consider submitting this to Liss as a guest Shaker post. It would be read widely.

Anonymous said...

"would" = "should"


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I have been fortunate my whole working career, and my husband and I make a decent, middle class living. I have not had to be the recipient of government tax breaks, etc., but I don't mind paying for those who do. I guess I'm just a socialist at heart.

Renee said...

The part that makes me sick is that there is this false idea that the poor don't work hard. Anyone who has worked a terrible minimum wage job trying to keep a roof of their head will know what hard work really is. There are people that are homeless that have full-time jobs. I think it is just a matter of greed that people don't want to be a graduated system.

Brave Sir Robin said...

This is a very eloquently and simply stated defense of progressive taxation.

Very, very well said Bitty.

I might note as an aside, the income tax is still (somewhat) fair. What I would dearly love to see is a reduction in payroll taxes, offset of course, by increases in capitol gains tax.

Bee said...

For two years, my husband worked in Holland -- where he AND his secretary paid 50% income tax, not to mention 20% sales tax on all goods and services. He used to say that he couldn't figure out why people weren't rioting in the streets . . . but obviously the people from other countries have a slightly different attitude toward taxes than your average American. I remember, right before the 2004 election, arguing with a rich Houston lawyer about why tax cuts for the rich were a good thing (in his opinion, certainly not mine.) He was giving me the usual, "I work hard for my money . . ." (with the implied "and poor people don't) and it just burned me up. There wasn't a material thing this man needed -- and truly, the tax he paid -- similar to an annoying bug bite -- made little to no difference in his quality of life.

Well, I'm probably just rambling now. Thanks for this, Bitty.

LarryE said...

Came here from Jon Swift and although I image a comment this late won't be seen, I did want to say nice job.

When I was a kid, I once asked my father how he would feel about paying the taxes imposed in Sweden, which were then about 50% of income. He said yes - because what he would get in exchange, including clean, safe, streets, publicly-funded health care, and publicly-funded education through college - was worth the cost.

That's how I was brought up: The issue wasn't the amount of taxes, it was what was done with them. Which may be a significant part of the reason why, in broad terms, the rich and the right, thinking in terms of "I," oppose taxes while the poor and the left, thinking in terms of "we," support them.