Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Singles and Taxes: Singles Need Tax Cuts, Too

Ah, spring. The season when worker bees begin to buzz about itemizing, everything is coming up the color of Benjamin Franklins, and those old bears in Washington get their paws on the national honey pot. On the anniversary of our country's most dreaded day, April 15, otherwise known as Bloodsuckers Day, Pocket Drainage Day, or, in some corners, Tax Day, President Obama vowed to simplify the tax code, reverse George Wallet Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, and re-line the pained pockets of working stiffs with something jinglier than campaign slogans.

On the whole, I approve of what our president has done with his newfound power. I haven't agreed with every single one of his decisions, but I have supported many of them. Besides, what I like most about Obama is that he puts his money where his mouth is. From day one in office, he has wasted no time trying to make good on his promises, tackling the issues that past presidents wouldn't touch and refusing to back down in the face of partisan interests. The Wall Street bail-outs may have sparked questions about his populism, but does anyone honestly believe good ol' boy McCain wouldn't have doled out double the financial aid? Obama, on the other hand, continues to do far more for the average taxpayer than the previous Republican administration ever did, passing the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Federal Additional Compensation Program, the Cobra Health Insurance Stimulus, and many other acts, orders, and memorandums that benefit the labor force.

However, as much as Obama has championed the marginalized--the poor, the disabled, the women and children, the ethnic minorities, the nontraditional partnerships--he has yet to elevate this nation's largest "minority," singles, to equal footing with all other American citizens guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Since Obama is an advocate of the underdog, I doubt this is an intentional oversight. Most likely the president suffers from the same singlist delusions that cloud the minds of Americans from the moment they learn that all fairy tales end with "they lived happily ever after."

As singles, we have a duty to ourselves and future unmarried generations to uncloud his mind, don't you think? I propose that we write to President Obama and remind him that his intended tax overhaul should provide relief for singles, too. That we have paid through our noses to bankroll marrieds for too many years. That we are a large and powerful voting segment that has been ignored for too long. That we aren't a threat to American values but those who would see them fulfilled in the lives of all Americans.

This is a copy of the letter I plan to send to the president:

Dear President Obama:

Over the past three months, I have been impressed by the actions you have taken to help make the American Dream accessible to the average citizen. I applaud your initiatives to ensure that everyone who contributes to our great society is entitled to a roof overhead, food on the table, health care, an education, a clean environment, and a government that is accountable to the governed. Due to your efforts, the workplace is becoming a more hospitable environment for those on whose backs it is built--the workers. Now you have vowed to restore more power to the people by providing us with tax relief while tightening the belt on an upper class that has exploited us for too long.

While these plans are commendable, I have one concern. Though you champion justice and equality for all, there is a very large "minority" that is consistently excluded from its piece of the American pie--unmarried adults. At any given time, singles comprise approximately 50% of the U.S. population. In fact, the average adult will spend more of his or her life single than married. Despite these facts, singles are subject to many legalized forms of discrimination. It has been estimated that those who marry are entitled to over a thousand federal rights and benefits. What is seldom mentioned is that these rights and benefits come at the expense of single individuals, who must bankroll them. To make matters worse, singles are denied the basic protections against discrimination that are afforded to all other minorities.

This compounded inequity disadvantages singles at every turn. For instance, a single, childless man cannot give his Social Security benefits to anyone even when he has paid as much into the system as a married man who leaves his benefits to his wife...and...if he is not hired or promoted because an employer prefers a "family man," he has no legal recourse. A single mother cannot leave her house to her only, single daughter without an expensive will and heavy taxation...and...if her single daughter applies to rent a house, there is nothing to stop the landlord from choosing a married couple because he assumes they are more "stable." If a single woman is seriously injured, no one is allowed medical leave to care for her...and...she cannot get insurance because her single brother's family plan can refuse to add any adult other than a spouse.

Perhaps the most grievous injustice perpetuated against singles is written into our income tax code, which specifies that a single individual in any bracket is taxed at a higher rate than his or her married counterpart. For example, a single taxpayer who earned $60,000 in 2008 is taxed at 25%, but a married couple filing jointly who earned $60,000 combined owes only 15%. Over a 30-year career, the couple would amass $157,500 more than the single worker. That is grossly unfair! Single parents stand to lose the most since the Child Tax Credit phases out at a much lower level of income for them than it does for married couples. Our tax code also penalizes singles more heavily than marrieds when selling property, willing or inheriting an estate, or providing health care to anyone other than a spouse.

It is clear that any truly egalitarian revision of tax legislation must take into account that a rapidly growing constituency of citizens--about half the U.S. population--are denied their rightful earnings simply because they did not have the good fortune to find suitable marriage partners. If these individuals were, say, Hispanic or Muslim or women or wheelchair-bound, it would be unconscionable to demand more taxes from them, yet it is somehow acceptable because they are not married. To add insult to injury, singles, especially women, parents, and people of color, are already far more likely to live in poverty. Without the reinforcement of a second income, they need help, not further deprivation.

Going it alone is not easy. Singles contend with tremendous social pressure to marry, the financial hardship of stretching one income in an economy designed for two, and the personal fallout of loneliness and lack of support. Still, there are many reasons why they do not marry. Many would like to but are not able to find appropriate partners. Some have familial obligations or physical conditions that prevent it. Others are dedicated to work, education, or volunteer causes. Still others, aware that nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce, wisely recognize that they are not ready or able to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary for a successful long-term relationship. And, of course, many singles have previously been married but are now divorced due to abuse, infidelity, addictions, or other chronic problems that made their relationships unhealthy.

Research shows that happy marital relationships benefit couples, and if the government wants to encourage marriage, it should do so by funding pre-marital and marital counseling as well as relationship skills education in the schools. But it is wrong to treat people who cannot or choose not to marry as second-class citizens who must bear additional financial burdens because of their "failure" while rewarding those who do with all kinds of incentives which are not even proven to influence marital choices, much less ensure that those choices are careful, healthy, or lasting.

The family unit is an important building block of society, and tax deductions and other aid should certainly be provided for minor children, who rely on parental support. But in a nation in which everyone over 18 assumes the rights and responsibilities of an American citizen, there is no reason why anyone should be given a tax break to support another able-bodied adult. If a childless couple can afford for the wife or husband to stay home and take care of the house on one income, that is their decision, but single taxpayers should not have to part with more of their hard-earned cash to supply them this luxury. Higher tax rates for singles are especially unjustifiable when one considers that a couple with two incomes can split many of the costs of living while singles have only themselves to rely on. The "singles penalty" has the effect of kicking people who are already down.

I know that the subject of discrimination is close to your heart. As you reform the nation's unwieldy tax code, please remember that it is never morally acceptable to discriminate against anyone--not by race, nationality, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or marital status. The solution to this inequity is to stop treating single workers as though they are less valuable or less entitled to their share of the American Dream. We must eliminate marital status as a determinant of tax bracket. Everyone who earns a specified amount should be taxed at the same rate, single or married. If someone chooses to support another able-bodied adult on his or her income, that should be a private choice, not one that the unmarried public has to fund. Also, we must eliminate marital status as a determinant of the Child Tax Credit. Everyone who earns a specified income should be eligible for the same amount of credit per child. We should not privilege the children of married couples over the children of single parents. Further, we must lift taxes on health insurance benefits for unmarried recipients. Every childless individual, single or married, should be entitled to the same untaxed health benefit, to be used for whomever he or she sees fit. Finally, we must end the tax distinction between singles and marrieds for purposes of selling, willing, and inheriting property. All taxpayers, single or married, should be allowed the same tax exclusions on home sales. All taxpayers, single or married, should be able to leave an estate to one other individual without incurring a tax penalty. All taxpayers, single or married, should be exempt from property tax increases on a home they have inherited.

Please help us abolish the last form of legalized discrimination, recently coined as singlism, starting with revisions to a tax code that unfairly favors one half of Americans over the other. One of today's most hotly debated topics is that of same-sex marriage. But nontraditional families are not just same-sex or unmarried couples. We are single parents raising our children.We are brothers and sisters or lifelong friends sharing our homes. We are adult children living with parents or grandparents. And, yes, some of us live alone. It is high time we are all entrusted with the same rewards and responsibilities, no matter who we love or who we live with. Please be the first president to help us truly live up to our proclamation of liberty and justice for all.


Anyone who wants to personalize the above letter is free to do so. Please edit it however you wish, leave it as it is, or use it to inspire a completely original letter and send it to President Obama. Then pass it on to your single friends and family (or anyone you know who cares about civil rights) and ask them to do the same. I encourage everyone who is single to unite against marital status discrimination and stand up for our right to fair taxation.

Do you think married couples are unfairly privileged over singles in the U.S. tax code? If you are single, has tax discrimination impacted your standard of living as opposed to that of the married couples you know? How do you think we could reform the tax code to make it more equitable? Can you think of other forms of economic discrimination that singles face?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have a rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a Singletude Q&A or your rant or rave in a Singletude Sound-off!


Unknown said...

fantastic! You really cover all the bases. Thanks for taking the time to put this letter together!

bobbyboy said...

Outstanding, simply outstanding!

I agree completely. I could also suggest making this letter a class action letter.

The Singlutionary said...

You've outdone yourself!

The Relationship Guy said...

A very well written letter to President Obama.

Clever Elsie said...

Thanks for your support, everybody! I hope it can encourage other singles to add their voices to a wake-up call for our government. :)

OldsKul said...

Clever, I'm single and this makes me want to be an activist. I wish there were a big lobbying group on behalf of singles to go to Washington DC and lobby on behalf of all of us single people. Married people have groups and individuals (politicians and religious leaders) to lobby on their behalf.

Clever Elsie said...

Oldskul: Hi! Thanks for reading! You might check out the Alternatives to Marriage Project. It's a nonprofit activist organization for singles and unmarried couples. Also, I'd encourage you to follow that impulse to write to Obama, your senators and representatives, or anyone else who has legislative influence. Despite the weight of our sheer numbers, singles have traditionally been a silent group, which is probably the reason why we receive such little attention from politicians and the media. The more we speak up and make ourselves visible, the better.