Me and My Middle Class Taxes

I tried to post a long comment in response to Liz’s comment on my last blog post as well as her spouse Jeanne’s blog post that referenced it, but putting several links in a comment did not go well, so I’ll just make this a new post.

I agree with what I understand to be Jeanne and Liz’s major points: 1) From Jeanne, that many Quakers carry middle class assumptions that we are unaware of, and so we are unaware of how they make people who are not middle class uncomfortable. I think it’s a fair point and while it’s not fun to be made a public example of our failings, I appreciate having that blind spot illuminated in the hope that I’ll be more sensitive to it in the future. Of course, I will continue to be a middle class person who writes about her personal experiences on her blog, but I do believe we can share our own experiences in ways that do not necessarily negate or dismiss the experiences of others. 

2) Liz points out that the tax system is unfair and that itemizing deductions is “a rich person’s problem” and that we should be thinking more about those who are suffering and less about taking advantage of our own class privilege. Also true overall. Perhaps I should have realized that in the current political climate talking about taking tax deductions would make me sound like a Tea Party tax basher.

In fact, I believe in paying taxes, as I’ve written before, though I confess that I am happier paying my state and local taxes than I am my federal taxes, more than half of which go to the military and wars that I believe are immoral. After some discussions in our meeting a few years ago about war tax resistance, I decided to pay more attention to ways that I could reduce my contributions to these wars, while also increasing my charitable contributions. I have also tried the advice of one Friend who pays extra on her city tax, both increasing the amount she is paying toward local human needs and decreasing the amount she contributes to the military, since local taxes can be deducted on your federal returns (if you have enough deductions to itemize).

It’s true that some of the most common tax deductions were designed for middle class people–like interest on one’s mortgage or health care costs. It’s also true that I wouldn’t be able to itemize at all if I weren’t in a heterosexual marriage where I get to combine my meagre income with my spouse’s for tax purposes. Still, many of the things I’m trying to keep better track of are related to my ministry of writing and speaking, which did not make much money last year partly because Quakers tend to assume I don’t really need to be paid for my work. (One meeting told me that they usually pay non-Quaker speakers twice as much as Quaker speakers, presumably because people led by the Spirit couldn’t possibly have bills to pay.) Getting a tax credit for the travel I do in the ministry is frankly providing me more financial support than I get from Friends, which is why the criticism of my tax deductions feels a bit like salt in a wound.

To put this in a broader context, the current budget conflict in Wisconsin and states around the country often pit unionized workers vs non-unionized workers, those with benefits vs. those without them. As the folks at the solidarity rally we attended Saturday pointed out, this is misleading scape-goating which misses the most significant inequality in our system. Check out this great Mother Jones article and the graphs below to see what I mean. I think it’s good for middle class Quakers (and others) to become more aware of their privilege, but let’s not lose site of the big picture. Are milage deductions for writers really the problem here?

2019-01-29T17:55:45+00:00March 1st, 2011|Uncategorized|


  1. Bob Fetter June 13, 2011 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Eileen Flanagan….Your postings about Taxes and Spiritual Discernment…and also the one about Ancestry…most interesting.

    First Ancestry: From a genealogy standpoint, I have been intrigued with what I have learned..often thanks to the internet…but also by placing certain reported family events along side timelines reflecting events in the neighborhood and the wider world.

    Certain described to me as illustrious ancestors (a number of them Quaker, some of whom were "read out of meeting") were not really that illustrious. This goes back to those glowing stories my grandmother told me…and I loved those stories!!…which were NOT completely true. Some of the stories which had been written down (and even published) were in fact rehabilitation stories in which the ancestors less conventional doings were retold with a heroic spin.

    Back to early Meeting Minutes: I have encountered "acknowledgments" some of my ancestors have made…after which they are readmitted to membership. Often, you can not find out what they did, other than reading sometime earlier in the minutes that Elders were appointed to meet with them.

    Another vignette: Why was my mother's Swarthmore College sorority sister (and cousin) sent off to Norristown State Hospital just a coupla years after college…where she remained the rest of her life? Over the years, other sorority sisters would go by, and take Florence out for drives…but this was all too painful for my mother to talk about

    Taxes: This subject is NOW, rather than the PAST. Susie and I were appalled to find that in 2009 we paid less federal income taxes in absolute dollars than we did the first full year we were married (and both working) back in 1961. On our 1961 federal return, we paid 18% of our gross in federal taxes….More recently, in 2009, thanks ot an amazing array of deductions and credits, we paid barely 1% of our gross in federal taxes. Yet our income in our retirement years is NINE TIIMES what it was when we were starting married life.

    NOTE: I came to your postings after referencing Liz Oppenheimer's postings where we were sent as a homework assignment for one of Balitmore Yearly Meeting's "working groups on racism." These taxes…or lack of them…are laden with privilege. Some of those "qualified dividends" are declared from profits made from mountain top removal facilitating PNC Bank. [All right, so my great grandfathe helped organize Swarthmore National Bank…and years later some of those local bank shares I purchased back in 1952 are now PNC.

    Disconnects like these can take us a lot of not-so-spiritually nurturing directions.

    Peace..and Greetings from one of your 2009 FGC Blacksburg workshop particioants,

    Bob Fetter, Gunpowder Monthly Meeting

  2. Eileen Flanagan June 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Bob. Good to hear from you. Yes, there's a lot that is unseen in our lives and in the systems that we're part of. It's good to remember that.

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