An aerial view of the campus of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. (Dickinson College photo).
By Jill Sunday Bartoli
We don’t have a debt ceiling crisis. We are the richest country in the world, with vast possibilities for solving many of our seemingly intractable problems. What we have is a resource collection crisis.
The richest 1% in the U.S. have more wealth–and unpaid taxes on that wealth—than 90% of our population, most of whom actually pay their taxes.
The same is true of the largest corporations in the U.S., many of which pay little or nothing in taxes, compared with small and medium sized family owned businesses who ethically do pay taxes.
When I turn on the radio in Carlisle to a local channel, I hear continual propaganda about the IRS coming to take away everything you own. The truth is that the IRS is so underfunded that gathering the fair share taxes from those who have the money to avoid paying them is nearly impossible.
If you really want to see the roots of our low wages, our poverty and homelessness, and our education and healthcare problems, follow the money. Look up—don’t look down at those who are not to blame. We are encouraged by pundits, media and some unethical politicians to blame and even despise those who are left out and left behind.
What does the highest inequality rate in the world look like?
Walk up North West Street in Carlisle and see the “Condemned” sign on a house where a resident died and no family member had the funds to reclaim the home. Ask a nearby community member about the eviction she is facing because a new landlord raised her rent.
Ask the seven veterans who face eviction because Operation Veteran’s Hope, a Work-to-Stay program with a thrift shop that veterans run in Mt. Holly, Cumberland County, is being charged an unsustainable $2,500. a month rent by a new California landlord.
Is this how we support successful programs for veterans in Cumberland County, who number nearly 17,000?
When some CEOs get 400 times the paycheck of their workers, we understand why Walmart, Amazon and other corporations fight so hard against their workers who want unions. In the 1960s, unions were strong enough to ensure fair, living wage pay, good working conditions, health benefits and pensions. In Matt Desmond’s Poverty, By America we learn that, as CEO pay escalated, the paychecks of workers stagnated or went down.
Powerful corporations and 1% of our citizens can afford to make very large donations to legislators willing to keep the status quo, and they can afford to pay lobbyists to advocate for their personal financial interests. Hence, we have lopsided tax rates and continued tax cuts that enrich those who have much, and disadvantage those who have little.
Why do other countries with far less wealth have far fewer children and families in poverty? Why do other countries have far lower eviction and homelessness rates than the U.S. has? Why does the U.S. have the most expensive health care system, and still leave so many families with little support for medical, dental, and mental healthcare? Why does the U.S. lag behind other less affluent countries in educational success?
There is no mystery here. And there is no debt ceiling crisis. We have only to gather the fair share taxes from all of our citizens and corporations, stop demonizing, and instead strengthen the government agencies that can help to do this. This is just as true for strengthening all of our public schools, broadening health care access, and supporting affordable housing.
In 2011, the GOP forced spending cuts to raise the debt ceiling — cuts that hurt working families and held back our economy, while those who had plenty got even more.
Subsequent tax cuts by former Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump continued to widen the inequality gap, so that half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck while too many individuals and corporations avoid paying their fair share in taxes.
They want to do this again in 2023, and only we the people can stop them.
Tell your representatives to stop faking a debt ceiling crisis and actually earn their excellent paychecks and generous benefits. Tell them to collect our vast resources and invest in our families, not give more tax breaks to corporations and only 1% of our population. Tell them to strengthen the IRS so that fair share taxes can be collected from those who can afford to pay back what they owe.
We are too good a society to let our families and veterans face eviction and our children face poverty, homelessness and despair.
Let’s work together to solve our most urgent problems, instead of manufacturing a crisis. Tell our elected leaders we need more collaboration, compromise and compassion—traits often attributed to women who lead.
This is what democracy can look like.
Opinion contributor Jill Sunday Bartoli, a former educator, writes from Carlisle, Pa. Her work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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