Millard Cox 5:32 a.m. ET April 16, 2017 for Burlington Free Press
Art Woolf’s article in the March 30 Free Press (“Only 11 percent of Vermonters are union workers”) leaves me wondering about his intent. He faults the state for not putting away enough money now to pay for future pensions and health benefits to unionized state employees and public educators. But then he implicates Vermont’s unionized public sector workers as being the underlying cause for these future tax burdens.
The reality is that current and future tax burdens in this state and nation have much more obvious origins. Since the 1980s a dramatic inequality in wealth and income has evolved between the mass of working people and the wealthiest top percent. Incomes for working people have flat-lined since the 1960s, so that working families are worse off now in terms of their purchasing power than they were then. And, since the economic recovery began in 2009, more than 90 percent of the economic benefit has gone to the top 1 percent.
Today, the richest 20 percent of Americans control 93 percent of the nation’s wealth. Eighty percent of Americans control only 7 percent of the nation’s wealth. Yet, in spite of this increasing inequality, the wealthy pay taxes today at a much lower rate than they have historically. Beginning with FDR’s administration through the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, until the Reagan administration, the wealthiest Americans paid a tax rate ranging from 60 to 90 percent of their income.
Today the wealthy typically pay less than 20 percent in taxes. Corporate taxes in the 1950s accounted for 25 to 30 percent of government operation costs. Today corporate taxes account for less than 11 percent. Clearly, the deficits in government revenue in Vermont and across the nation are not caused by pension payments to unionized public sector workers. The cause of government revenue loss is directly attributable to a reduction in corporate tax obligations and reduced taxes on the wealthy.
Labor unions in the private and public sectors have done more to increase the economic power of working people than any other historic factor, and the current levels of wealth inequality in America are directly related to the demise of unions over the past 60 years. The death of unions in America has been engineered by corporations and the wealthy who have influenced elections and lobbied for anti-union legislation. Unionized American jobs have been moved to countries where impoverished, non-unionized workers can be exploited.
Art Woolf is an economics professor who teaches at UVM, which has a unionized faculty. My experience as a public school educator and union partisan is that those faculty members who do not agree with the concept and purpose of unions nevertheless do not refuse to accept the enhanced pay and benefits that are won by the union they do not believe in.
Millard Cox lives in Ripton.