US Politics

Consider Me Overwhelmed With Sympathy

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Who will pity the plight of poor professionals making over $250,000 a year? Who hears their cries?

A 63-year-old attorney based in Lafayette, La., who asked not to be named, told ABCNews.com that she plans to cut back on her business to get her annual income under the quarter million mark should the Obama tax plan be passed by Congress and become law.

"We have to find a way out where we can make just what we need to just under the line so we can benefit from Obama’s tax plan," she added. "Why kill yourself working if you’re going to give it all away to people who aren’t working as hard?"

I wonder if the unnamed attorney in this article (there’s some quality sourcing from the media there) could handle one day working in a kitchen, in retail, or in my classroom.

Morici says that he believes Obama’s tax proposal could spark a kind of class war.

"What Obama is doing is pitting the poor against the upper middle class," said Morici. "He’ll tax the rich for the health benefits everyone else wants."

I have to say I hope that the Republicans stick with this messaging. Somehow, I think a strategy premised on getting the votes of the top 1% of wage earners and the shrinking social conservative vote is not one that’s going to translate into a lot of electoral wins in the future.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

21 Comments

  • I really hate that people, especially those at that top of the income bracket, automatically assume that if you aren’t making as much money as them, you are somehow lazy, don’t work as hard as them, and are somehow not their equal. I also find it funny to thik about how much effort they will put out in trying to get their income done under the 250,000 mark, it seems there energy could be put to better use elsewhere. Why not donate to charity to reach your goal?

  • It is amazing how many rich people don’t understand the concept of marginal tax rates. There is no point where you save money by reducing your income in the U.S. tax system. You may pay a bit more of your last dollar than of your second-to-last dollar.

    I wonder how hard they had to look to find someone currently volunteering to cut their income.

  • Its amazing to me that some people think that richer people owed them something as an obligation and not arising from generousity or a social contract.

    Sometimes people understand better when the message is told via a parable.

    The point…

    Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

    The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.

    The fifth would pay $1.

    The sixth would pay $3.

    The seventh would pay $7.

    The eighth would pay $12.

    The ninth would pay $18.

    The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

    So, that’s what they decided to do.

    The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. ‘Since you are all such good customers,’ he said, ‘I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.’ Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

    The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free.

    But what about the other six men – the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his ‘fair share?’

    They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

    So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

    And so:

    The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).

    The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% savings).

    The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28% savings).

    The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).

    The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).

    The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

    Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

    ‘I only got a dollar out of the $20,’declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,’ but he got $10!’

    ‘Yeah, that’s right,’ exclaimed the fifth man. ‘I only saved a dollar, too.

    It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I got’ ‘That’s true!!’shouted the seventh man. ‘Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!’

    ‘Wait a minute,’ yelled the first four men in unison. ‘We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!’

    The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

    The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

    David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
    Professor of Economics
    University of Georgia

  • Another, shorter story.

    One man is born with wealth and privilege. Many others, who work just as hard, if not harder, have little or struggle to make ends meet.

    When the rich man makes poor investments or helps enact policies that impoverish his community, the government gives him tax breaks and bailouts. When the average worker’s retirement benefits or job is threatened because of the poor decision-making of the rich man and a government whose economic policies were solely designed to benefit the wealthy, the rich man can ask only one question:

    “Why are poor people so lazy?”

  • My husband and I make over $300,000 a year and we are not rich by any stretch of the imagination. In order to make $300k a year, we both went to graduate school, have over $250 thousand dollars in student loans and can't afford a two bedroom condo because we live in Los Angeles. Because we are both wage earners (instead of having investment income like the "rich"), we get no deductions for student loan interests, no first time home buyer credit, no tax stimulus refund, not to mention we get hit with significant AMT. We both work 14 hour days and often will have work left over to do on the weekends. I understand that we may be considered "rich" by those who make less than we do… however, we also have significantly more debt and work longer hours than the average American. Do I think I need to shoulder my responsibility in paying taxes? Yes… but do I think it is fair to automatically group us in the "rich" bucket… No.

  • I'm still struggling with sympathy. First, you need to get a better accountant to do your taxes, because I don't think the person you are using now gets how student loans deductions or the AMT work–unless your story is a bit more complicated than you let on.

    You made choices. Everyone does. To pretend that you are in some sort of economic hardship compared to the people who've lost their jobs, can't afford health care, or work very low-paying jobs shows just how out of touch the wealthy in this country have become.

    If you can't make it on $300,000 a year, you need some better priorities.

    • Student loan interest phases out as a couple if you make over like $135k a year. We are not eligible for any deductions on housing, student loans, etc. because all our income are taxed as wages and not investment. As such, we make too much for any deductions. Once you factor in AMT, health care, ss tax, etc., our take home is 1/2 of that $300k (and we are not getting any of the stimulus package benefits). Add on the $250k in student loan payments, we are not living the life stye of the "rich". To call us rich but not take in account the amount of financial burden we are carrying is simply not right. I don't own a house, have driven the same car (toyota) for 5 years, and live in a 800 sq feet one bedroom apartment in a not so nice part of town– not exactly the lifestyle you would envision for someone who is "rich".

      What I am also saying is that in order to make that $300k a year, we make a lot of sacrifices. We work jobs that require us to stay often until 2 or 3 am in the morning and work on weekends. We incur significant amount of student loan debt in order for us to be able to make that $300k a year. We work 80-90 hour workweeks. Are we lucky to have the opportunities that we have? yes… but was it just handed to us? no…. do we make a lot of personal sacrifices? yes… I donate to charity every year and am very happy to do so. However, I do find it offensive when I am told that because I am "rich", I don't understand the plight of the poor or what it means to struggle… or that I am not contributing and that I need to have "better priorities"… or that I take lots of tax deductions because I have a fancy accountant that do it for me…. or that I need to pay more taxes because I am not paying my fair share

      I made the choice to be financially responsible but from what I am hearing, it is not the right choice to go to school and work hard because that would only mean that I am "rich" and need "better priorities"…

      What is the message we are sending people about whether they should work hard and educate themselves????

  • It doesn´t take much of a stretch for me to imagine you as rich. I´m sorry, and I know LA is an expensive city, but you make three times the national average. So clearly LA is filled with people who make substantially less than you do, and continue to do alright. And the way I see it, you can still get a two bedroom one bath home in LA (and that is with my checking google for all of 35 seconds) for less than a years salary, which is a substantially better deal than most Americans no matter where they live. Your biggest problem, as I see it, your debt. That sucks, but the problem there is that America has an inadequate system to deal with student debt, and you went to very expensive schools without the immediate means to pay for them. Education, like any quarter million dollar investment, is a gamble. But your financial straights do not compare with those that many Americans face, and the tax system has no obligation to help you out individually. What has really hurt you financially is that America has a terrible system for financing education, wherein students take on massive loans and hope to repay them later, rather than a European system of accepting moderate loans and massive grants, or free education and loans available for living expenses.

    All that said, yes, our definition of rich should not be based on income, it should be based on assets. No doubt about it, and I have no idea why that isn´t the case. Someone with a house and three cars and a healthy retirement account clearly is better off than someone who makes as much money but is saddled with debt higher than their assets.

    And one last thing: have you ever thought that your having to work 12 hour days despite haing a higher education and still not feeling financially secure is a result of an over-consumeristic, over-capitalistic American society?

  • I agree with you — the definition of "rich" should not be based on income but on asset. My entire point is that I keep hearing about how I am not contributing to society, how I "owe" people who make less than I do because I make more, and I have all these tax shelters that I am supposedly utilizing because I am "rich". Why am I being casted in a negative light just because I work hard and educated myself? I have never asked for any handout or suggest that the government should give me more breaks than the average American (in fact, I don't get majority of the tax breaks that the average American gets). However, I still pay my taxes without taking any shady deductions, contribute to charity every year but apparently can't talk about the fact that my net worth is deeply in the negative because I am "rich".

    I believe I should help out those less fortunate than me because I am able to make more money even though I am in debt– however, it is not because I "owe" it to them the way people talk about it or that it's not fair that I make so much more, but rather because I feel like I am in a position to be able to help others out. When I am working my 80 hour weeks and am still at work at 3 in the morning while others are asleep, I don't complain because I am doing what I need to do to be financially responsible for myself. The $300k comes with a lot of personal sacrifices. I work really hard and studied really hard in school, so why am I all the sudden the deadbeat "rich" person who needs to pay even more taxes given that my take home pay is already half of what my income is and I have significant amount of debt that still needs to be paid? What's my incentive then for working hard and staying in school?

    As for not being able to buy a two bedroom condo, because I am financially responsible, I realize that I need to pay off my student loans first before I take on even more debt. That is me living within my means. Los Angeles has many different areas and in my neighborhood (where I need to live since I would prefer not to have to drive an hour at 3 in the morning to get home), a two bedroom condo will cost me $500k. So am I bitter when I see others who make significantly less than I do living in condos that cost $500k while complaining that "rich" people like me are not paying their fair share of taxes or that I need to bail them out of condos that I can't afford because they decided to take out a $500k loan on a $40k a year salary? Yes!

    I never said that I was not fortunate or that I should not help those in need. All I am saying is that people get too caught up with the income number. I am fortunate that I don't have to worry about paying my rent next month or whether to eat or stay warm. However, that does not make me rich. I don't live the dream life people think that I live just because I make a high income.

    Again, what message are we sending to people like me about working hard and getting an education? What's the point then?

  • I understand your argument, but I think the average American, who has seen her real income decline in the past 10 years, despite working very hard, is going to have a hard time maintaining any degree of sympathy for someone who can't afford a 500k condo.

    The people I know who make 20 or 30 or 40 thousand dollars a year work incredibly hard, too.

    It's clear that the Bush taxation policies are unsustainable. They led to enormous national debt.

    Do you propose cutting governmental services to reduce your tax burden or just increasing the debt on generations to come so that you can afford the house you think you are entitled to?

    • What I propose is that instead of the focused being on income, it should be on sources of income and net worth. I am not proposing that governmental services be cut or debt should be increased on future generations, but at what point is my share of that burden considered enough? Given that my take home pay is already 1/2 of my income, am I suppose to be happy when people say that I don't pay enough taxes or that I can't take tax deductions that the average American takes for granted though I am being financially responsible by not buying houses I can't afford and paying my enormous student loan debt while still contributing to charity? What is the point then for people like me who work really hard and studied really hard in school? What are we telling the future generation about the benefits of personal sacrifices, higher education, and hard work?

      Bush's taxation policies significantly favors those who have investment incomes (capital gains is taxed at 15%). Why not talk about that instead? Then again, for those Americans that own stocks who make less than I do, this may be perceived as "unfair" too!

      My point is that things are not as absolute as that magical $250k number. For some of us who are fortunate enough to be north of that number, it comes with a lot of personal sacrifices. This does not mean that people who make less than I do don't work incredibly hard but just because they make less that doesn't mean I "owe" it to them!

      I have dreams of American homeownership too. I am not asking for sympathy because I can't afford a two bedroom condo but rather just stating a fact that this is what my neighborhood costs. Why is my dream of homeownership less important than others? It is because I am perceived as "rich"? (by the way, at my wage level, mortgage interest tax deduction phases out too). I never said that I am entitled to that $500k condo but rather that I can't afford it given my current debt level. However, I don't think I should bail out those who are currently in $500k condos who should not have been in those in the first place.

      As things currently stand, for a "rich" person, I have a net worth that is negative (which does not include a mortgage), can't afford a starter condo in my neighborhood, sees only 1/2 of my salary, work 80-90 hour weeks, am not eligible for tax deductions that the average American takes for granted. Is this the lifestyle that a "rich" person suppose to have? What I am hearing back is that I "owe" it to others to pay more taxes, that it is unfair I make the salary I make, and that I must have some special magic that allows me to hide my income.

      Again, what message are we sending to people like me about working hard and getting an education? What's the point then?

  • Dinks… Okay, I'll ask it… what exactly do you do that required a Master's Degree and is apparently working you 26 hours a day, oh great defender of the worker?

    • My husband and I have professional degrees. I never claimed to be the "great defender of the worker" but rather just laying out the facts behind one person's story. Are there really rich people out there that take advantage of the system? Yes… but not every single person that you perceive as being "rich" is taking advantage of the system. People don't automatically "owe" you because they make more money just like people who are on welfare are not automatically lazy.

      I don't work 26 hours a day (as a reminder, earth revolves around the sun once every 24 hours so only 24 hours in a day) but I do work a lot on weekends, holidays, and 2 and 3 o'clock in the mornings.

      You may not like my story and I am not asking anyone to be "sympathetic." However, I am providing a different point of view that is not often discussed. Does that mean that I shouldn't pay taxes? no… but does that mean that I "owe" people because I make a high income? no.

      If no matter how hard I work I get the same reward as others, then my incentive for working hard no longer exists.

  • So, attorney? Doctor? Why keep this a secret? You argue that you don't want people to be sympathetic and yet you are certainly lashing out at Pogie's post that says he isn't sympathetic…

    You are living in a high cost area, right? Why not move? I know several teachers that had to move out of California because they couldn't afford an apartment not because of taxes but because their salary (go ahead and claim that you work SO much harder than teachers… I want to see Pogie give you a slice…) and they made the mature choice to leave and go to a location where real estate was more realistically priced…

    • Attorney and MBA. Not hiding anything. Never said that teachers do not work hard, in fact, I know they do work very hard for very little pay. I was a volunteer after school tutor at the local school district through my four years in college so I know how hard teachers work. However, that does not erase the fact that we also work hard and make significant personal sacrifices. Why am I automatically the bad guy just because I make more money or that I lay out facts that do not automatically paint me as irresponsible or a bad person?

      To make my salary, we have to live in a high cost area since that's where the jobs are and in order to pay off the student loans, we need high paying jobs. if I moved to a lower cost area, I wouldn't be able to make my salary and can't pay my loans — if that were the case, then I would really become the irresponsible "rich" person that people automatically paint me as.

      Again, I am not asking people to be sympathetic but just open minded about the fact that not every person you perceive to be "rich" is living that dream lifestyle or has it handed to them through trust funds. Some of us do make personal sacrifices just like you do in your life.

      By the logic I am hearing, my husband and I made the biggest mistakes of our lives by going and getting advanced degrees. Without these degrees, we wouldn't have the $250k student loan debt that we have. Of course, without those degrees, we wouldn't be able to make the salaries that we make — though that would also mean that we no longer have to work those 80-90 hour work weeks and be accused of being "rich" people who are not willing to pay taxes even though we have negative net worth and see only 1/2 of our salaries already. I, as a woman in my 30s, can now contemplate having kids because while I am sure I can find daycare that will watch my baby 40 hours a week (and allow me to parent my child), I am sure that I won't be able to find anyone who will watch my kid for 80-90 hours a week. Combined, my husband and I will now have an extra 80 hours a week to spend with each other and pursue personal hobbies while not having to miss anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays… We will now be able to have dinner together on a weeknight and not have to take conference calls at 11 at night. I will now be able to watch American Idol since I am actually at home when it's on TV and catch up on some badly needed sleep. But then again, because I am "rich", these are not really sacrifices that I'm making and it's not really hard work. I just "owe" people. As long as people make less than I do, I am automatically the bad person.

      By your logic, what we should tell the future generation that it is not worth getting a higher education because that would mean that you will have a higher salary. And if you happen to work really hard and get to a point where people think you are "rich" because of your salary, regardless of the amount of hard work you put in, the sacrifices you make in your 20s or in your personal life, you now "owe" them. You should be thankful that you are allowed to take home 1/2 of your salary (never mind the $250k that you owe to be able to make that salary) because you're automatically not paying enough taxes.

  • Okay, I guess this goes full circle then. What is your argument? Should we be lowering your taxes then? Are you SO overburdened by taxes that we should be giving you relief and aid? As it turns out, I have a master's degree, too, and I have student loan debt for each of my degrees. For the first five years of my career, I had to pay a significant percentage of my income to support those students loans (and certainly couldn't have afforded kids or a house) and only through marriage and the eventual increase in my salary due to experience was I able to afford my mortgage in what could only be described as a starter house. My loans are only now not a big deal because I ended up refinancing the loans to an obnoxiously long time. Our stories are not that different… why am I not overwhelmed?

    1.) You chose to be an attorney with an MBA… and you used borrowed money to do it. I'm sorry that you are not making the salary that you want and more importantly, I can't fathom that you are arguing that somehow you should be let out of paying taxes because of it. By the way…. do you know how you were able to take out a quarter of a million in student loans? Yup…government support paid for by taxes.

    2.) You are still eating… and apparently doing okay otherwise other than long hours and no condo in your chosen neighborhood.

    3.) I am not sad that you don't get to watch American Idol.

    Look: sure it is more complex than drawing a line and saying "rich bad! poor not bad!" and calling it good. But, that is not what Pogie is arguing here.

    What do you really want? Lower taxes? Welfare? Student loan payments?

    • I never said I shouldn't pay taxes (if you read my postings, I have always said that it is my responsibility to do my part and pay my taxes without shady deductions and to help those who are less fortunate because I am in a position to help — but not because I "owe" them due to the fact that I make more money) or that the government needs to give me special treatments (not that I am even eligible for the tax deductions that the average American takes).

      However, given that I am seeing only 1/2 of my salary right now, by the virtue of the fact that I make more than you, according to everything I am hearing, I am not still not paying enough just simply because I fit your definition of "rich". If you see only 1/2 of your salary, let's see if you would be happy to hear that you are not doing your part for the country and need to pay more taxes. If seeing only 1/2 of my salary is not enough, then what percentage am I suppose to give up that would make up for the fact that I'm a "rich" person? Not to mention that because if I happen to make more, then for some odd reason, my personal sacrifices apparently don't count because I am "rich."

      Like I've said before, I am giving you a story that you may not like because it is not the lifestyle of the rich and famous that you seem to think I am living as a "rich" person. Just because I have a high income doesn't mean I sit at home doing nothing except to think of ways of cheating people who make less than I do by not paying taxes. I am sure there are plenty of people who also make less than you — how come you are not saying that you need to pay 50% of your income or that you should pay more investment tax on those stocks you are holding because you "are still eating" and therefore you're also "rich" by the definition of those who make less than you? Why is it that you with a greater net worth than me automatically get the right to say I am not paying enough taxes or that I am not paying my fair share?

      Again, my point is that things are not as absolute as that magical $250k number. For some of us who are fortunate enough to be north of that number, it comes with a lot of personal sacrifices. Just because someone makes more than you doesn't automatically make them the bad guy. Furthermore, what exactly are we saying about hard work and education if regardless of how hard I study or work, I will always "owe" people as long as I make more money. What's my incentive then?

      I understand Pogie's point of view. All I am saying to him is that though I do make a lot of money, it also comes with a lot of hard work and personal sacrifices. I am not living that lifestyle that people think I live or am one of those that do not pay my taxes. However, I do find it troubling that people seem to think that I "owe" them or that I am automatically not doing my part by the virtue of the fact that I fit their definition of "rich"

      I am not asking for "lower taxes" or "welfare" or "lower student loan payments." I borrowed that money so it's my responsibility to pay it back. But what I am objecting to is the way that I am being portrayed and how my hard work is being discounted just because I am "rich". I would prefer not to have to pay even more taxes than I am currently paying because I don't think it's unreasonable to think I am already contributing a huge percentage of my income. I also don't think I automatically "owe" you anything just because I make more money.

      There is a difference between income and wealth. People focus on income because it is easy and catchy to understand. However, high income does not equal wealth. I may have a high income but I am not wealthy. By focusing on that $250k, we are confusing the two.

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