Thanks to Darrin McKinney for his letter (The Mail, 10/4) openly expressing the feelings of all too many wealthy people and yuppies, and even some self-hating poor folk. Born-again social Darwinism: Blame the victim. It is always easier and for some more profitable than recognizing the predatory nature of corporate capitalism for the moral evil it is.
The current assault on D.C.’s working class and poor began with the control board regime and its instrument, then-CFO Tony Williams. Structural adjustment applied locally: Erode democracy (leaving just the remnants of home rule), privatize, cut the already inadequate safety net (and now the school budget), give tax cuts to the corporations and rich, promote gentrification, keep welfare and a third of D.C.’s kids below the poverty level, close our public hospital, and make sure those “middle class” residents who can manage to pay their bills work two to three jobs so they have no time or energy to fight back. To be sure, some benefited, with the wealthy-taxpayer income booming in the ’90s, reaching some 7.25 billion dollars in 2000 (greater than $100K bracket).
McKinney is almost right on one point—our “radically redistributive tax structure”—but it is opposite to what he implies. The wealthy continue to pay a smaller percentage of their income as local taxes than low-income households, thanks in large part to the federal deduction offset taken heavily by upper-income taxpayers. (Deduction of D.C. income and property taxes along with mortgage in itemized federal returns means lower federal tax payment; hence D.C. tax cuts for the wealthy, such as tax parity, are effective reverse federal payments.) The lowest fifth and middle-income families pay about 10 percent, while the richest, averaging $1.8 million in family income, paid 6.4 percent in 1995, with the federal deduction offset included; more recent data indicate similar if not greater regressivity (Citizens for Tax Justice and Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy studies). Further, it is an urban myth to claim, as many Democratic and Republican politicians do, that D.C. households pay excessively high taxes compared with those in the suburbs, especially Maryland (see Ed Lazere’s article on the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute Web site). The modified budget sent to Congress includes substantial cuts in education ($29 million) and social services ($54
million). Once again, we face a budget balanced on the backs of low-income and working-class residents instead of those who are most able to bear the burden, wealthy taxpayers and corporations.
New figures from the 2000 census highlight the growth of income inequality and poverty among District residents in the decade since 1990. Families in poverty grew from 13 percent to 17 percent, while poverty among children younger than 18 grew from 25 percent to 31 percent (Washington Post, 6/6/02). Things have gotten worse since the recession. The District income gap is greater than that of any state, or virtually all the nation’s major cities, and is the underlying cause of the poverty and bad health of so many of our residents (Washington Post, 8/16/98). D.C.’s ratio of the top fifth to bottom fifth of average income of families with children is 27 to 1, $203,110 to $7,498, compared with a national ratio of 10 to 1. (For more documentation visit www.dcstatehoodgreen.org.) One way to reduce this income gap is a more progressive local tax structure. Tough love for the rich means a better life for all.