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Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

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To address poverty, tax the rich and vote blue

Nov 29, 2023

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The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world today, yet many Americans remain trapped in cycles of poverty and homelessness. That problem is both an economic and a political one, as many on the Right insist that the government should not be protecting or providing for America’s poor in the first place.

Straight Arrow News contributor Adrienne Lawrence argues that the problem is really more political than economic, as she notes that, in purely financial terms, the United States is more than able to provide for every poor American. A key obstacle, Lawrence states, is getting the rich to pay their fair share in taxes — and that requires Democratic governments, not the Republican governments which many poor Americans continue to vote for.

When the year started, the U.S. poverty rate was coming off its largest one-year increase in history. 12.4% of the population was now living below the poverty line. That’s 38 million Americans entering this year without the ability to afford to meet their basic needs, despite many of them working one or more jobs and paying their fair share of taxes.

This is unjust. It’s also an easy fix, one that we all should be pursuing at all costs. It’s simple: Tax the rich. But in order for that basic concept to come to fruition, Americans, particularly those on the Right, must get their heads right as it concerns poverty.

Foremost, fixing poverty is possible. In research for his new book “Poverty by America,” Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond found that if the top 1% of Americans paid the taxes they owed, it would raise $175 billion each year. Using those tax dollars toward low-income Americans would be significant enough to ensure their basic needs are met and more.

Such a proposal should not offend the senses. Yet a number of people still take issue with using government aid to uplift the poor. That brings me to my next point. Poverty is not a personal failure; it is a societal one…

As the year comes to a close, advertisements for tax prep companies are already rolling in. And with them comes the reminder of income, something that too many Americans did not have enough of coming into 2023. And they likely still don’t have enough.

 

When the year started, the U.S. poverty rate was coming off its largest one-year increase in history. 12.4% of the population was now living below the poverty line. That’s 38 million Americans entering this year without the ability to afford to meet their basic needs, despite many of them working one or more jobs and paying their fair share of taxes.

 

This is unjust. It’s also an easy fix, one that we all should be pursuing at all costs. It’s simple: Tax the rich. But in order for that basic concept to come to fruition, Americans, particularly those on the right, must get their heads right as it concerns poverty.

 

Foremost, fixing poverty is possible. In research for his new book “Poverty by America,” Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond found that if the top 1% of Americans paid the taxes they owed, it would raise $175 billion each year. Using those tax dollars toward low-income Americans would be significant enough to ensure their basic needs are met and more.

 

Such a proposal should not offend the senses. Yet a number of people still take issue with using government aid to uplift the poor. That brings me to my next point. Poverty is not a personal failure; it is a societal one. As a member of our society, you should be entitled to basics like housing, food, healthcare, education, safety. Sweden and Norway seem to know how to make this work. These basics should not be deemed luxuries afforded only by those who can afford it.

 

Taking care of all of your citizens is not complicated, particularly when you’re wealthy enough to spend $877 billion on your military, right? We have the means, but we must make the way. That is, we need to update our mindsets. Those who are opposed to using government assistance for the poor may also need a wake-up call. Those high five and low and timid six-figure households are the biggest beneficiaries of government aid to begin with. Tax breaks on retirement accounts, wealth transfers, health insurance, college savings, mortgage interest, these are all economic benefits that the government gives back to the people. With these tax subsidies, the government is basically cutting a check back to Americans. On just homeowner base tax subsidies alone, for example, the United States spends an estimated $190 billion a year putting that amount back into the pockets of homeowners. How much does the US spend on housing assistance for low-income families? Around $50 billion a year. You can see the difference there, right?

 

Government aid is everywhere. But the vast majority of it doesn’t go to those who need it the most. And lastly, to fix poverty, what we need most is for Americans to uplift leaders who are willing to hold the 1% accountable. While not every leader on the left fits that bill, I can assure you no one on the right does. They’re just too busy protecting corporate greed rather than looking to meet constituents’ basic needs.

 

This is apparent in that what on average red states have long had higher rates of poverty than blue states. A vote for the red really keeps you in the red. Yet millions of those living in poverty in the United States continue to lean Republican. According to Pew Research, over 1/3 of those making $30,000 to $50,000 a year rock with the right, as do about one-third of those making less than $30,000 a year. The math ain’t mathin’ here. But hopefully, when it comes to tax season, all the math will line up. And when it comes to election season in November, the votes will, too.

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