Our tax code is the unique and most effective tool available to the state legislature to immediately improve the economic conditions of the people of our state, and yet it shamefully remains upside down. Lester Black
Even though the Delta variant and the breakthrough COVID infections are masking us again, all signs point to a condition opening up again. Small businesses are recruiting. The people are outside. Immunization rates are on the rise. As a psychiatric resident in Seattle, I see more patients in person.
People with low risk jobs and resources generally feel optimistic. Others who have seen their work shattered, had to choose between family and career or are on the verge of homelessness are still in survival mode; they don’t feel any sense of relief or resolution.
Everyone was affected, however, some much more than others. The pandemic has clearly shown me how great economic inequalities constrain people’s ability to cope with times of stress. I am convinced, now more than ever, that we need significant economic reforms to help us create a just society.
Even though the peaks in deaths and hospitalizations have declined in some places, it’s clear to me that the real recovery is just beginning. More than 6,000 Washingtonians have lost their lives. Almost half a million people have been infected with COVID. Many have lost income due to the pandemic. Moratoriums on evictions have prevented a dramatic increase in homelessness, at least for now. Federal financial relief such as prolonged unemployment, stimulus checks and the new child tax credit have helped reduce poverty rates. But it is not known whether these are temporary dressings or the start of lasting reforms.
At the state level, there is a lot of room for improvement. Our tax code is the unique and most effective tool available to the state legislature to immediately improve the economic conditions of the people of our state, and yet it remains shamefully upset because a few wealthy have rigged it in their favor. , leaving the vast majority of Washingtonians to suffer.
COVID-19 has widened the inequalities already existing in almost every aspect of our society, and our regressive tax code is not structured to fix this problem.
That our lower-income neighbors pay six times their income in state and local taxes than the rich few is not just a matter of fairness. This inequity does not end with the bank account – it produces poorer physical and mental health outcomes.
In my role as a psychiatrist, I try to soften the blows of inequity, poverty, displacement and the low self-esteem that follows. But psychotherapy and drugs are not meant to solve problems that need to be addressed at the political level.
On a personal level, I see how harder it is for people to lift themselves out of poor health and poverty when there is no adequate safety net or a stable supply of basic necessities. – investments which can and must be paid for by the taxes of the rich.
Fortunately, our state legislature has taken small but important steps in the right direction. In the last session, we saw the first reforms to our tax code in a century that put people first, making everyday Washingtonians’ lives a little less difficult. The passage of a working families tax credit and a capital gains tax provides essential support for education, child care, housing and health care. These are critical investments that fund the backbone, the architecture of a healthy society for all.
As a young doctor, I know that I advocate increasing the taxes that I will be asked to pay over the course of my career. It is not a martyrdom. Progressive taxes are essential redistributive investments in the health of our communities: roads, parks, schools, health care, libraries and more. These investments improve the conditions of my neighbors, the community and, ultimately, my own quality of life.
I am proud of the progress we have made, but the recovery is not over until we balance our tax code. Ours is still the most upset in the country. It is imperative that in the next session we continue with an extraordinary wealth tax and other reforms. We can right the wrongs written into our tax code, and in doing so, ensure that all Washingtonians have what they need to live happy, healthy lives.
Jesse Paulsen, MD is a fourth year resident in psychiatry and a member of the Economic Inequalities and Health Working Group of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. He lives and works in Seattle.
A fast, flat, end of season, fully catered, in-person event to benefit the American Lung Association.