Just Taxes Blog by ITEP

We Can Create a Fair, Feminist Tax Code

April 14, 2023

This op-ed originally appeared in Ms. magazine.

Women do the brunt of uncompensated work that should be paid for by the government under a fair tax system. We’re more likely to care for young children or older family membersand face consequences to our own careers—like job loss—for doing that work. We also foot the bill to pay someone else when we can’t ourselves.

Imagine if all families could instead count on high-quality childcare and eldercare and if the overwhelmingly female, often Black and brown workers who do these jobs, were paid what they’re worth.

When we have to juggle earning a good living with our family’s other needs, we’re more likely to shoulder the exhaustion and stress that balancing act creates. Lack of paid leave, for example, means women—particularly low-paid women and women of color—often must return to work before we and our babies are ready.

What does this have to do with fair taxes? Everything! Taxing wealthy people and corporations and using the revenue for paid leave, childcare, education, healthcare and college would transform America for girls and women of every race and family type, in every corner of this country.

Our inequitable tax code asks too little of millionaires and billionaires—more than 86 percent of whom are men. Most billionaire wealth comes in the form of unrealized capital gains (think: big stock portfolios that grow every year) which are not taxed. So while Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or any of the other dozen richest people in the country—all men—aren’t taxed on their assets, nurses, teachers and flight attendants have taxes deducted every pay period.

Corporate taxes are also too low, with 55 huge profitable corporations paying zero in one recent year. But the executives who benefit from low corporate taxes are—you guessed it—almost all men. A whopping 89.4 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are men, as were 25 of the 26 largest S&P 500 CEOs in 2021.

Now that 13 states forbid or sharply curtail abortions (with more trying to do so), we see links between denying reproductive rights, keeping taxes low and stingy public services. States that block reproductive choice provide the least for children and parents.

Of the 20 states that had abortion-restrictive laws on the books when Roe v. Wade was overturned:

  • None had targeted refundable child tax credits (known poverty-crushers).
  • Just five had earned income tax credits.
  • Most ranked in the bottom half or worse in paid leave, minimum wage and spending on education and poor children.

Leaders like Rep Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), working women like AFL-CIO president Liz Schuler and mothers across the country know how to create a feminist tax code. Their work elevates tax justice, now championed by so many from President Biden, to Wisconsin and Minnesota’s governors, to Massachusetts voters.

Five more tax changes could enable an America that supports women and families:

  1. Tax the wealthiest men by implementing the Billionaire Minimum Income Tax, getting rid of the federal capital gains tax break, and expanding state capital gains taxes.
  2. Tax corporations by passing an international corporate minimum tax and better taxing corporations at the state level.
  3. Fix upside-down state policies that force regular families to spend more of their income on taxes than the wealthiest do, by having graduated state income taxes and using the money that generates to pay for things that help families.
  4. Use the tax code itself to provide targeted refundable tax credits that help families and slash poverty. Do it by expanding the federal child tax credit or the federal earned income tax credit or by growing these credits at the state level, as many states are doing.
  5. Most importantly, once we’ve raised this revenue in smart, fair ways, use it on the essentials women and families need. Provide affordable or free childcare and preschool, as most European countries do. Allow paid parental leave as nearly every other wealthy country (and even most poor ones) do. Make it easier for girls (and their siblings) to afford college. And fund the schools, parks and libraries that give all of us a better world, every day.

We can create a liberatory, joy-filled economy that works for women and their families. To get there, we have to start with fair taxes.


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