Lawmaker In Congress Should Aim for Equity, Not Just Investment

Bishop Marcia Dinkins

By Bishop Marcia Dinkins, Executive Director, Women for Change
Guest Column

Love them or hate them, most Americans pay their fair share of taxes into the government’s coffers as a basic duty. In return, we get roads, education, public safety, healthcare and a variety of other services that serve our shared needs and interests.

As federal lawmakers start debate on the much-anticipated “build back better” economic stimulus and recovery package, they should consider not just how to tax the rich and corporations in order to invest in the jobs, healthcare and other services but also how tax reform addresses the long legacy of inequity that continues to leave people of color behind while disproportionately serving the interests of mainly wealthy white people and corporations.

For too long, the rules that apply to most of us have been shirked by the richest households and corporations that can afford to pay their fair share, but don’t–thanks to tax breaks, loopholes and a rigged tax code that rewards wealth over work.

Black workers are overrepresented in low-wage entry-level jobs and underrepresented in senior leader and executive roles. On average, Black men are paid just $0.71 for every dollar paid to white men and Black women, who face both gender and racial barriers, are paid just $0.63 for every dollar paid to white men. They aren’t fairly paid for their work, often face discrimination on the job and have little chance of accumulating wealth.

The pandemic just accentuated these disparities while wealthy people and corporations prospered, millions of working people struggled with job loss, shrinking incomes, loss of health insurance and other challenges.  Yet Fortune 500 corporations managed to make big profits and to avoid taxes during a period of historically high unemployment and public health crisis.

Zoom Video Communications, for example, profiteered while giving nothing back in taxes even as COVID devastated communities, causing historic job loss and hundreds of thousands of casualties.  Zoom’s pre-tax profits increased by 4,000 percent last year, from $16 million in 2019 to $660 million in 2020, but paid no federal corporate income tax on those profits for 2020

Similarly, from mid-March to mid-October last year, Ohio’s six billionaires increased their wealth by over $1 billion even as millions of their neighbors got sick, lost jobs, lost healthcare and struggled to afford the basics. Around the country and in Ohio, no one has struggled more than Black American, Latinos, and Native who during COVID were most likely to lose employment and still be without a job, most likely to lack healthcare and the most likely to get infected and die with COVID.

The 2017  Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, President Trump’s signature achievement, just made things worse. Not only did the law give away over $1.9 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, it deepened economic inequality and the racial wealth gap.  In 2020, the richest 20 percent of Americans (people making $119,000 or more) received an estimated 70 percent of the tax breaks while the bottom 80 percent (people making under $119,000 a year) received about 20 percent of the tax benefits. In Ohio, the top one percent of taxpayers, people making $639,000 or more, received an annual tax break of $37,650 while people making $24,000 or less received about $80 annually.

About 80 percent of the TJCA  tax cuts in 2018 went to White households: White households received $2,020 in cuts, while Latino households received $970 and Black households received $840. The law also privileges upper income families in the administration of the Child Tax Credit: 11 million children under 17 in the lowest-income working families received either no improvement in the credit or a tiny increase compared to much larger increases for families with incomes as high as $400,000.

Not only are the TJCA tax cuts more beneficial for Whites, particularly wealthy Whites, but they disproportionately hurt Blacks, Latinos, Natives because of provisions in the law that weaken the Affordable Care Act, a law that particularly benefited these communities. Trump’s tax law cut an ACA  provision to help offset the cost of tax breaks for the rich.

As a result, Republican state attorneys general initiated a lawsuit to repeal the law that is expected to be ruled on this summer by the Supreme Court. Repealing the ACA and Medicaid expansion result in more than 201,000 Ohioans losing marketplace coverage, over 526,000 people losing Medicaid, and 1,983,000 losing protections against discrimination based on pre-existing  health conditions which now could include COVID. Wealthy households making more than $200,000 and prescription drug corporations would get billions in tax breaks from repeal.

Biden’s proposals to tax wealth like work, to increase corporate taxes, stop companies from avoiding taxes by offshoring profits and jobs and to raise taxes on households making over $400,000 would put the United States on the right track toward a fairer tax system and a more equitable economy that can work for everyone, not just the wealthy few. But to ensure that equity is an outcome will require that the investments we fund address the racial wage gap, the racial wealth gap, education, healthcare and the other systems that create real mobility, fairness and opportunity for everyone in America–no matter what they look like, where they came from or what’s in their wallet.