I recently got some official mail from New York State, demanding I fill out the paperwork for a new commuter tax. Time for another tax!
I commute, as one of the nation’s self-employed — now about one-third of American workers — from my bedroom to my living room desk. It takes about 15 seconds, tops. I will be heading into Manhattan, 25 miles south of me, visible from my street, Monday to interview someone for my book, because face to face interviews are always the best.
I do not commute into the city, but go in about once a week for business or pleasure or both. I should be taxed for this?
Why do I need to pay another (*^%#@!! tax?
I get why people are furious, and why a man torched his house and flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin. His actions were insane, but his rage was not. His sense of impotence is deeply and widely felt.
There are six people lined up for any job open right now. Thousands of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure, living in their vehicles, terrified of the next hammer blow of an economy — and a government — rewarding Wall Street with billions while the rest of us stand there feeling like morons for doing the right thing, paying our taxes over and over and over to governments that give us very little back. Two wars. Bank bailouts. Job creation that doesn’t touch us or anyone, anywhere, we know.
When you work for yourself, paying taxes feels deeply, viscerally personal. That money doesn’t neatly and invisibly evaporate from your paychecks, with maybe a fat refund awaiting you. As if!
We’re expected to pay our taxes quarterly, in anticipation of the rest of the year’s income — as if we know, in this recession, what that will be — in docile agreement. We get zero help when our clients disappear, (I lost one third of my income last year when The New York Times shut down a regional section I wrote for every month), when banks refuse to extend us credit to run the businesses we have spent years building, when credit card companies game the system by jacking up their rates before new laws restrict them from further rapacity.
I know I am not alone right now in this crap economy, scrapping harder than ever for my income, in feeling like a punch-drunk fighter on the ropes, looking through puffy, bloodied eyes for my cut-man. In vain.
I interviewed a 44-year-old local businessman yesterday who runs a store his great-great grandfather founded in 1904. “I’ve never ever ever seen it this bad,” he said. He is surviving, and gracious about it. But, increasingly, I bet others will not be.
The self-employed also pay 15% for the pleasure of not having a boss, or insured earnings (no unemployment checks for us — no matter how badly the economy tanks) or benefits, no paid sick days or holidays or vacations. That’s our money going into FICA, paying full freight for our Social Security.
Every time I write a check to the Federal Treasury, I want to enclose a note: Don’t waste it! Stop two absurd wars! Pass a health care bill!
I grew up in Canada, where taxes are high but the finest and most competitive college in the nation, my alma mater the University of Toronto, charges about $5,000 a year tuition right now. No, that is not missing a zero. Where every single resident of ever single province has access to excellent, free health care, cradle to grave.
Canadians are taxed up the wazoo, even paying tax on stamps. But you see, every single day, where that money goes and its benefits.
I understand the fury and the frustration. I feel it. Millions of us do.