Sunday, January 16, 2011

Still Held Hostage

Pardon me for being a cynic, but when all the hot air was rising above Washington in December it was hard for me to get excited.  I had absolutely no delusions that the tax cuts for all Americans included me.  You see, since I reduced my hours to part-time, I earn half of the already shameful $23,000 that I was making as an employee of Charleston County.  I may be middle class in many ways, but I was not one of the people Obama or Congress were fighting over.  So I thought, big deal, they're going to kill Social Security, and I'll get maybe a dollar or two.  So hold me hostage.  Big deal.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked at my first payroll statement for 2011, and found that there was an actual net decrease of $10 for the two-week period.  Hopefully, that amount doesn't mean a lot to you, but believe me, it brought a lump to my throat.

Preliminary investigation in the form of an "I hope this is a mistake" email to the staff accountant revealed that it was indeed not an error.  We will all be paying more federal taxes, to the tune of $400 per person, as a result of Congress failing to renew the Make Work Pay tax credit.

That's right, while we are raiding our children's social security fund, we are nonetheless doing our part to pay down the damned deficit.

David Dayen in a December FireDogLake article provides a chart drawn up by Nancy Altman of Social Security Works which shows dramatically just how bad a hand the working poor have been dealt by this tax cut trade-off.

The irony is, for most people in the low to minimum wage earner category, the details  become obfuscated by other changes, for example, insurance deduction amounts, which of course usually increase.  Also, with direct deposit and online payroll statements, it becomes less likely that the average worker will compare the last statement of 2010 with the first statement of 2011, line by line.  Which is what I did.

My FICA did indeed drop from $34.61 to $25.56.  But my federal taxes withheld increased from $.65 (remember I earn under $12,000 per year) to a whopping $19.99, which resulted in a drop in my bi-weekly net pay from $377.73 to $367.44.

It may seem crass to describe my salary in such detail, but I believe that this is a change that we Americans need to make in order to wake up from the somnolence of the march of the financial numbers that affect us dramatically.  Friday I did something I have never done with my co-workers:  I discussed in numbers what we gained and lost in our pay.

In my lifetime it has become perfectly acceptable to talk about sex, but not salary.  (Prior to that, it was not permissable to discuss either.)  Which has allowed all kinds of financial discrimination to flourish in the workplace.  Which prevented the Obama administration from getting credit for cutting taxes for the middle class in 2009, but allows government in 2011 to take away from the middle class and especially the working poor and give to the wealthy, all the while plundering social security.

I don't believe I was alone in resenting President Obama's conceding to this plan by comparing it to a hostage situation.  I would have gladly continued to pay in to Social Security so that he could stand firm on not renewing the tax cuts for the wealthy.  What we have lost from this concession is inconceivable; the depletion of Social Security and Medicare, a long-sought-after goal of conservatives and big business, is just the beginning.  My $215 annual loss in salary hurt, but what hurts more is knowing that this is just the first concession.

Talk about your hostage situation.

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