The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday outlining the federal income tax increases (or lack thereof, depending on your situation) that Americans would have to pay under the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA). The article itself is a veritable case study in how to privilege the perspective of the wealthy and generalize it to everyone, so that what “hurts” the rich hurts everyone. Exhibit A was the following graphic:
Look at that poor family of six with their $180,000 in passive income! Or that poor African American retired couple, who will… see no increase in their federal taxes? Why the glum faces? Empathic solidarity with the millions of Americans who make $53,000 a year from investments? As David Atkins at Hullabaloo put it:
Beyond mockery, though, that the Wall Street Journal would even dare publish such a thing without irony is indicative of the reality that the wealthy don’t live in the same country as the rest of us. Their experience of life, and therefore of public policy, is on an entirely different plane. These are people who take tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of yearly passive investment income for granted and think they earned that money, deserving to pay very low taxes on it. They’re people who see a single individual making $230,000 as struggling to get by, and severely put upon by the loss of a couple thousand dollars to help pay for decrepit infrastructure and basic healthcare for the indigent.
I couldn’t have put it better. Plus, this would make sense in light of my post from this past Sunday, detailing how wealth can actually make us less empathic and compassionate. What Mr. Atkins didn’t bring up was the WSJ’s interactive graphic (about halfway down on the left-hand side of the original article) that shows you how ATRA will impact Americans at a wide variety of income levels.
In this little interactive graphic, the WSJ claims that high income “earners” (>$1 million) will be “hit hardest” by the tax increases. But actually, they will only see a 15 percent increase in federal income tax paid. (NOTE: this doesn’t mean a 15 percent rise in the rate of taxation, but rather a 15 percent rise in the amount paid compared to last year. The WSJ isn’t terribly clear about this, probably deliberately.)
Let’s compare this to an unemployed worker making less than $10,000 a year. In point of fact, that unemployed worker will see a 14.7 percent increase in their federal taxes paid as a result of the expiration of the payroll tax break – almost as great an increase as for the highest tax bracket. The expiration actually hits working couples ($20,000-$30,000) hardest, with a 446 percent (!!) increase. Compare that to ATRA’s fallout for higher-income professionals ($150,000 a year), who are facing a 6.5 percent increase, or a high income couple ($300,000 a year), who will see a mere a 3.9 percent increase.
As ever, the real victims are not in fact the rich. They very rarely are. No, the real victims are the poor and working classes, who are consistently hit harder by a U.S. tax structure that’s only barely progressive as it is (let alone in South Dakota, where it’s deeply, deeply regressive).
Not to mention the fact that out of seven income levels surveyed, three of them (~42 percent) are in excess of $150,000, despite the fact that only 5 percent of Americans make that much in a year – though I’m willing to bet that the >$150,000 crowd makes up a solid plurality of the Wall Street Journal’s readership. Which just goes to show how disconnected it is from the real lives of working Americans.