We’re approaching three weeks since the most important cable news journalist of our time aired Trump’s leaked tax return, and honestly, with everything else going on, I’d nearly forgotten about it. Until, that is, when it came time to finalize my own tax documents last week. I’m not an accountant but I am a numbers person, and a big fan of properly contextualized facts, so I started wondering and reading up. What I found was ample evidence that taxes are/should be a queer women’s issue! Here are three good reasons why.
1. Tax benefits systematically disadvantage queer women.
As a group, queer women are not independently wealthy. Some of us are underpaid or face employment barriers due to unchecked anti-LGBT discrimination. Some of us are estranged from our families and are cut off from generational wealth or informal financial education from our families we might otherwise have received. Some of us have hit the glass ceiling, work minimum wage jobs, choose crucial-but-poorly-compensated organizing work, or are anti-capitalist radicals — not to mention the numerous intersecting identities we all hold. Though the factors impacting individuals are varied and plentiful, some chosen and some chosen for us, queer women lack structural access to wealth. We typically face greater economic insecurity and rely more heavily on wages to pay day-to-day expenses.
Thus, when capital gains (read: money earned by having and investing money) are taxed at lower rates than wages, we lose out. Or when tax-free retirement/pensions benefit only people who are able to save for retirement — yeah, we tend to lose there too. Or when deductions for mortgage interest hold greater value for those with more expensive loans. Or when tax policy favors those who give away more money in charitable donations. I’m not saying that these things are all bad, necessarily (I think it’s good to incentivize retirement savings, for example!). But the fact stands that our system overwhelmingly favors people who already have money. And that typically does not include queer women.
2. Queer women are penalized for a lifetime of economic injustice.
Thanks to patriarchal expectations that stick women with a disproportionate amount of unpaid care taking responsibilities, women are more likely to have interrupted careers. For straight women, there’s cultural pressure to both have kids and stay at home to raise them, relying on male partners’ “breadwinning” to financially support the family. For queer women, career interruptions may also come in the form of parenting (which, by the way, is expensive to get started through adoption or conception procedures, and often does not come with male financial sponsorship), or it may look more like social expectations that “childless” women step up to care for sick family members or perform other unpaid labor.
Coming back from career breaks, women often lose ground that is never made up, and tend to have less access to employer-sponsored retirement plans, health insurance, and other work related benefits. Because we live longer than men and have fewer private retirement funds, we tend to be particularly dependent on Social Security, Medicare, and other publicly provided services for the elderly. And while many straight women have families who are able to fill the gaps, queer women (who tend to have fewer children, and again, may be estranged from their families) don’t always have that option. It’s public options or bust.
Currently, Social Security payroll tax applies the same flat 6.2% tax rate across all wages, up to the cap of $118,500. Everyone earning under the cap (a disproportionately female group) pays that tax on their entire incomes; meanwhile, everyone earning above the cap (a disproportionately male group) is not taxed for amounts earned above the cap. Although retirement benefits are doled out such that lower earners receive a higher percentage of their earnings back, it comes out to less money each paycheck because they have lower lifetime earnings. And thus, we are penalized once again. According to the Social Security Administration, the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older in 2014 was $13,150, compared to $17,106 for men. Numbers specific to queer women have not been released, and you know, I wouldn’t count on it anytime soon.
3. Trump’s Tax Plan is historically regressive and bad for queer women.
As you may have gathered from the examples above, women as a group typically benefit under progressive tax policies (which tax people according to their ability to pay) and suffer under flat or regressive tax policies (which do not). Queer women already face economic hardship for a variety of reasons, and when women-unfriendly tax policies are put in place, we get hit extra hard. Because there are two of us. (Or more! But for tax purposes, two.)
Since the end of World War II — when women entered the workforce in previously unseen numbers — the tax system in the United States has gradually become less and less progressive. While President Obama did some good work on making the tax code fairer, Trump’s tax plan is historically regressive. To start, he wants to eliminate the estate tax, helping wealthy families pass on generational wealth to their offspring. He also proposes taking 6.6 percentage points off the top marginal income tax rate. This would give huge tax breaks to millionaires, further concentrating wealth and consolidating power. Wealthy men keep their wealth, while queer women get nothing.
While it’s too late to change our tax code this April, we can push for more progressive tax policies in the future. The connection between between queer women’s organizing and tax reform to date has been tenuous at best — so really, there’s nowhere but up to go from here. Add it to your gay agenda!
For further reading:
- Taxes Are a Woman’s Issue by Mimi Abramovitz and Sandra Morgen is an excellent primer, even though most of the statistics are dated. (It came out in 2005.)
- United For A Fair Economy is an organization advocating for a more progressive tax code within the United States.
- The International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) has a (not-quite-dead but rather infrequently updated) blog where it’s collected resources on international tax policies.
- Queer Our Taxes by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force offers help for LGBTQ people struggling to file their taxes.
Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of 14 days. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.