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For many American families the COVID-19 pandemic brought significant new challenges, and more than half of all households with children have lost income since the pandemic began. But a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness—a campaign of more than 420 endorsing organizations, including the Children’s Defense Fund, united in support of a fair tax system that works for all Americans—shows total U.S. billionaire wealth has increased $2.1 trillion, or 70 percent, during the pandemic. As Americans for Tax Fairness executive director Frank Clemente put it, “From Maine to Arizona, Washington State to Florida, America’s billionaires have enjoyed a bonanza of growing riches during the past 19 months of shutdowns, job losses, overcrowded ERs and lost hope. This boom in billionaire wealth occurred against a backdrop of millions of other Americans losing their health, jobs and lives.”
The report also cites a ProPublica analysis of IRS data that found billionaires including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, and George Soros have paid no federal income taxes in some recent years, and the nation’s 25 top billionaires paid a tax rate of just 3.4 percent on the $400 billion they collectively accumulated between 2014-18. It’s time to insist rich corporations and individuals pay their fair share and not live by their own set of rules. As Americans for Tax Fairness notes, the $2.1 trillion increase in billionaire wealth during the pandemic is more than Congress is considering spending on the entire Build Back Better plan over 10 years. Polls show large numbers of Americans support increasing taxes for the wealthiest Americans as a means of funding our collective future and infrastructure. How is it possible that some of our leaders would still rather protect billionaires over babies and corporations over children?
Every American family should have a decent safety net. Everyone must be able to live in safe communities with affordable housing, nutritious food, affordable health care, and high quality child care. But something is awry in our nation when the gap between rich and poor has widened to historic levels and the rich are allowed to keep getting richer even during a global pandemic. There must be some concept of enough—both for those at the top and the bottom. The Build Back Better framework released this week represents a critical first step towards correcting this injustice and closing the growing gulf between the haves and have nots.
Since 2010 the number of American billionaires has doubled while the number of poor children has remained shamefully and stubbornly high—but the temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit earlier this year made a significant reduction in child poverty. The latest reconciliation proposal would extend the enhanced Child Tax Credit for one year and make it permanently refundable, ensuring the poorest children in families with little or no income continue to benefit. It would also expand access to preschool and child care for millions of children; provide more money for school meals, affordable housing, and health care; and take steps to address the climate crisis our children and grandchildren will inherit. It will move us closer to being a nation with a true concept of enough for all—enough income, food, shelter, child care, and health care for every child. Congress must pass the Build Back Better Act and begin to build the better nation our children deserve.
Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund