How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Opinion: Wealthy should pay more in taxes to help the poor

The Times of Trenton Newapaper
By Irwin Stoolmacher

At a family gathering, I talked to a high school senior and college sophomore about the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots and the fact that the income of the top 1 percent was increasing at a staggering rate and the disparity was widening.

I indicated that the rich should pay more taxes to help the poor. I argued that the rich, to whom much had been given, had an obligation to give to the poor. My cousins argued that the rich should not be forced to give to the poor; if they wanted to do so, they could (and many do) give voluntarily.

As I listened, I realized that their reluctance to force the rich to give to the poor was based on three core beliefs:

  • Increasing the taxes paid by the rich will negatively affect the economy;
  • Low-income families do not pay sufficient taxes; and
  • Too many Americans are happy to live on the dole.

I disagree.
Increasing taxes on the wealthy will hurt the economy

President Reagan raised taxes 11 times between 1982 and 1988. The Clinton tax increase moved the top statutory tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent. It did not trigger an increase in the deficit. In fact, the contrary occurred. The budget fell during the Clinton years from a $255 billion deficit in 1993 to a budget surplus of $236 billion in 2000, before it was dissipated by tax cuts during the George W. Bush administration.
Low-income people pay too little in taxes

In recent years, to support their contention that personal responsibility is on the wane, conservative pundits have reiterated the myth that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income taxes.

The overriding reason that families pay no federal taxes is because of their low income. A couple with two children earning less than $26,400 will pay no federal income tax this year, because their first $11,600 standard deduction and four exemptions of $3,700 each reduce their taxable income to zero. Sixty-one percent of those owing no federal income tax in a given year (28.3 percent of the population) are working households who pay excise, payroll (such as Social Security and Medicare) and state and local taxes, but have enough deductions and tax credits that their federal income tax liability has shrunk to zero. Many of those who don’t pay taxes are the elderly unable to work due to serious disabilities and students struggling to shoulder college debt and find their first job.
Too many people don’t want to work

Are there a significant number of people receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) who could be working for a living and instead have opted to get something for nothing? My answer, based on firsthand experience, is no. Most families receiving TANF are going to have an extremely difficult time avoiding deep poverty when their five-year lifetime benefit limit expires.

The majority of those on TANF, especially single moms, are going to be unable to find work. A significant portion of this population, while not legally disabled, has a variety of impediments that will make finding employment extremely problematic.

A pivotal question is what we do about those who cannot take care of themselves. Politicians on both sides of the aisle recognize that talking about “welfare queens” and “ending welfare as we know it” resonates with the public.

This is the reason that the Romney campaign accused President Obama of “gutting” the 1996 welfare reform act, which requires public assistance recipients to work or train for a job in order to be eligible for benefits. The accusation was not true. The waivers were requested by Republican governors, who wanted “some flexibility in how they manage the welfare rolls as long as it produced 20 percent increases in the number of people getting work,” according to The limit on the amount of time people could spend on welfare without working or looking for a job would not change.

Likewise, Gov. Romney was off the mark when he indicated in the “Mother Jones” video that the fabled “47 percent” think of themselves as “victims” and “believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.” What the 47 percent know is that they are being treated unfairly. They are paying a much larger share of their income in federal payroll taxes than high-income people (the bottom 20 percent paid an average of 8.8 percent of their income in payroll taxes vs. 1.6 percent for the top 1 percent of the income distribution).

At a time when millions of Americans are struggling, we need to think about whether we want to go back to a time when citizens were left to fend for themselves when situations arose that were beyond their control. Talking solely about greater personal responsibility and self-reliance without talking about shared responsibility and balancing the burden will increase the disparity and produce greater inequity.

Providing unemployment insurance, health care and human care services to those who need it due to circumstances that are no fault of their own is not pandering paternalism but rather affirming Americanism.