I’ve always thought that the more you make, the more you should give back to your community. However, over the course of my life, I’ve realized that my beliefs were often at odds with the wealthy folks around me – folks who would take any opportunity to ignore their societal responsibility to give back to those that helped them earn their fortune, and instead exploit the system for massive tax cuts and financial loopholes.
I joined the Patriotic Millionaires because I believe in a society where we take care of our fellow Americans and give everyone an equal chance at opportunity, rather than the ‘I-got-mine’ wealthy mindset.
I wasn’t always wealthy. I grew up on welfare in a small town in rural Oregon in a cramped two-bedroom house with five other family members. Out in conservative rural Oregon, my parents were the lone hippies in town, so it was fitting that my father initially made a living by planting trees for the local paper mill. He and my step-mother raised my siblings and I in a progressive household, and always stressed how important it was for all of us to get a good education and maintain a strong work ethic. Thanks to the lessons they imparted on me, I was able to pay my way through college and become the second person in my family to graduate as an undergrad from the University of Oregon, where I got my degree in Journalism.
Entranced by life in a bigger city and fresh off the farm, I moved to Los Angeles and got a job at a local entertainment research firm before jumping ship for a position at ACNielsen where I drove the development of their first online research platform. I went on to form my own startup called Online Testing Exchange (OTX) with a fellow Nielsen co-worker. With skill and a lot of luck, our business soared during the middle of the dot-com boom, but things really started to take off when we sold the company and opportunities began appearing everywhere.
I never thought I would reach a point in my life where I would earn enough money to never have to work again – I didn’t even know that was possible! But suddenly I found myself holding a level of wealth I had never imagined before, and I came to realize exactly how effortless it is to accumulate wealth once you already have it.
It was a real eye-opener for me to learn that our tax system is purposely designed to be arcane in order to deny access to those who don’t know how to take advantage of it, or cannot afford to hire someone to guide them through it. But beyond the complexity, higher-income individuals are simply taxed at a lower rate than those who work for a living. The majority of wealthy people make their income through capital gains from investments, which are conveniently taxed less than ordinary income. This isn’t an accident – these codes were designed by wealthy folks who wanted to make themselves and their pals richer. There is a fundamental problem in our nation when the wealthy continue to get wealthier while everyone else is left behind.
Structural barriers like these prevent those with talent and initiative from getting ahead on their own hard work, and additionally, have led to one of the widest disparities of wealth in our country’s history since the Gilded Age. It has made welfare-to-wealth stories like mine harder to find – and stories like mine are what the ideals of this nation are built on.
It’s also important to note who is specifically locked out of the American dream. As a white woman in the business world, I have walked into conferences to be the only woman there multiple times, but I have never experienced being the only white person in an executive meeting before. This problem can be seen in the racial disparities of wealth within our nation, so it’s no surprise that in 2016, the average wealth of a white household was $700,000 dollars higher than that of a Black family.
Increased diversity should be a priority of businesses, because it’s beneficial to have a wide range of ideas and experiences within an executive suite, and it would help generate greater returns. However, the country’s racial inequalities wouldn’t be instantly solved if there were more people of color in boardrooms and executive offices across the nation, but the lack of people of color in these positions signals a deeper and systemic problem that must be addressed from the bottom up. The structural racism within this country is a part of the inequality that has left so many Americans behind, and if we want to solve it, we need to address both, otherwise reforms will only benefit a select few of Americans.
If we want to become a truly progressive nation with opportunities for everyone, we need to begin by taxing wealthy folks like myself more, and ensuring that these taxes cannot be avoided through loopholes or expensive tax lawyers. With the newfound revenue, we can support a plethora of programs like public housing, paid maternity AND paternity leave, a world-class public education, and a universal public healthcare system. With robust safety net programs, our government could assist elderly and poor Americans and give them the peace of mind knowing they will not be left destitute for simply falling on hard times.
We also need to ensure that Americans will be adequately compensated for their labor by passing a nationwide minimum wage of $15 dollars per hour or higher. No longer should any person in this country work for poverty-level wages that were too low when they went into effect eleven years ago. We must address the lopsided profits gig economy employers reap from their employees, many of whom still refuse to acknowledge their workers as part of their company. Employers would have no business and no wealth without their employees, and it’s high time we adequately compensate them for their contributions to our society.
Our nation is approaching a tipping point and if we do not invest in EVERY citizen and their well-being, many of my wealthy colleagues will find pitchforks and torches on their front porch.
I believe that we can restore and expand on this nation’s promise of opportunity and prosperity for all. The next generation of Americans deserves to live in a country that was better than the one I grew up in. This dream becomes a reality when we restructure our economy so that people like me stop amassing and start giving back.