Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where'd my taxes go?

I have some friends on Facebook who are repeatedly posting concerns about "redistribution of wealth." I respect these people (most of them, anyway) and wanted to give their thoughts a fair look. So for my first step in understanding their concerns, I decided to take a look at where my income taxes go. For this situation, I'm defining "income tax" as anything that comes out of my paycheck, and that I don't get back in a tax refund. Thus, it includes traditional incomes tax, as well as Social Security and Medicare.

Here's a breakdown by percentage. For this overview, I've only included items that make up more than 2% of my tax receipt:

5% went to Job and Family Security (aka "welfare")
2.5% went to Medicaid & Chip
6.5% went to National Defense
28% went to Medicare
55% went to Social Security

Let me start out by saying that I recognize that what follows is a very simplified “big picture” view that doesn't get into a lot of important discussions that we could and should have about these issues. For instance, the first thing I noticed was that national defense number. I thought for sure we were spending more on military than that 6.5% could accommodate. I dug around a bit, and it turns out that it's all about the deficit, of course. We're spending money we don't actually have on wars and defense, as well as many of these other categories. Another topic for another day.

So, moving one from deficit spending to where my actual paycheck dollars go.  What do the above numbers mean?

To me it means that everyone who thinks that most of their paycheck is funding some "free-loading welfare recipient" is partly mistaken. Sure, a whole 5 cents of every dollar goes to "Job and family security." But: A quarter of that goes to military retirement and child tax credits. The people I see complaining about redistribution of wealth have children, and you can bet they take the child credit! They are also mostly folks who have "Support our Troops" magnets on their cars. So I'm guessing they don't mind paying toward military retirement. Another bit goes to "Child care, foster care, and adoption support." This is another area where the term "freeloader" does not apply; there's no argument that services are being provided for these funds.

That leaves us at around 3 cents of my every tax dollar going to the things that could fall into that "freeloader" category...except that not everyone on welfare or unemployment is actually a freeloader. Many of these folks are under-employed, working their asses off trying to move up the pay-scale, or simply can't get a job right now because of the state of the economy.  My father is on unemployment. He worked hard for Xerox for decades and was a few years from retirement when Xerox decided they could save a few bucks by hiring someone younger at a lower rate, and not paying his full retirement. My father has paid taxes for longer than I've been alive. He's not a freeloader. And what about the people who need welfare temporarily because they happen not to have the privileges that so many people don't even realize they have? Let's not pretend that welfare doesn't provide that little boost out of poverty for a huge chunk of the people who receive it.
So, what percentage of people who receive my tax money as welfare or unemployment are legitimately "freeloaders?" I couldn't find any stats, but I can't imagine it's actually that much. Even if we assume it's 50%, that's 1.5 cents per tax dollar. In my case, that's less than one tenth of one percent of every dollar I earn. Clearly those freeloaders are "stealing my wealth".... right?

But that leaves us with the undeniable percentages that come from Medicare and Social Security. Combined, they account for 83% of my income tax bill.  That's 6 cents out of every dollar I earn: 6000% what I pay toward "welfare." If this is what my friends are referring to when they talk about their paycheck going to other people, then they're at least vaguely onto something... eighty-three percent of every tax dollar. That's huge. For someone in a higher tax bracket than me, that could be massive. So, who gets that much of my money?

Retired folks, mostly. People who have paid as much or more into Social Security for their entire working lives.  So wait... who's free-loading now?

Clearly we have a problem with Social Security. It can't last and something needs to be done.  Could either presidential candidate solve this problem?  Probably not. This is going to take some massive out-of-the-box thinking, and the support of a huge percent of the population who will have to concede a portion of what they otherwise feel entitled to. These folks are going to be lower-middle class through upper-class, and they’re not moving on this issue any time soon.

And Medicare? Who's got a solution to that that doesn't involve massive numbers of older folks who worked and paid taxes their whole lives going without medical coverage at the time when they need it most?
These are tough questions that will likely involve tough, hard-to-swallow solutions. They are legitimate concerns. But, if you think a society of "free-loaders" is "stealing all your money," it's time to take a look at the facts, and compare them to your own perhaps unrealistic expectations for what it takes to live the good life. But that's a whole other topic for a whole other post.

Monday, October 1, 2012

You know, I'd like to turn...

He started out by yelling "You know, I'd like to turn..."

He wanted to turn right. I was in front of him, waiting to go straight. It was a narrow lane, only one lane each direction; not enough room for him to pass me without one of us moving into the opposing lane.

I guess he thought I should pull up on the sidewalk to get out of traffic's way while I wait for the light? And so I guess he would expect the driver of a car to do the same? Does he yell at the cars in front of him when he wants to turn at a red light?  Because if I weren't commuting by bike, there'd be one more car on the road, possibly directly in front of him.
The generally accepted method for
indicating an intention to turn

The funny part is, I absolutely think that bikers should give room when it's available, and I do it all the time. When I'm the first person coming up to a red light, I look at the car behind me in my mirror and check for turn signals. If they're turning right and I'm not, I move left to leave room for them. So when this guy pulled up behind me, I checked--out of habit--for turn signals. Were either of them blinking? Of course not.

"You know, I'd like to turn..."

I looked back to double check his signal lights.  Still nothing blinking.  I kept my mouth shut. The light was already yellow and we'd be going any second.

And of course, when the light changed, he peeled out *way* too close to my back wheel, yelling all the way.

And now I'm home and trying hard not to hold onto the anger that this incident inspired. So as a part of my self-therapy I'd like to say this:

I believe that all users of the road should be considerate, regardless of their mode of transportation. 

However: it is not your inalienable right to make a right turn on red. The light is red. You may have to wait. Get over it. If I'm not making room for you, you can bet there's a good reason for it. Bike's don't move sideways very well, you know. And if there's no room for safe passing, you can bet I'll be wary. You see, I don't have a metal roll-cage around me, and I don't think that 15 seconds of your time is worth the risk of bodily harm.

Oh, and if you'd like to turn, use your damn blinker.