Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Even During COVID-19, the Wealthy Under-Contribute

The uber-wealthy cast out crumbs of beneficence when we need bakeries full of bread

Last week, it seemed that billionaires might step up and come to the rescue. Jack Dorsey, who founded Twitter and Square, donated $1 billion, amounting to 28 percent of his wealth, to relief programs related to the novel coronavirus. 

But what about the richest man in the world, clocking in at $123 billion and growing? Jeff Bezos donated $100 million to Feeding America, a nonprofit focused on supporting food banks. That is 0.0008 percent of his wealth. The equivalent would be someone with a net worth of $1 million donating $2.19 a day for a year. 

How about the Ballmers? They got some good headlines, donating $10 million to the University of Washington for COVID-19 testing. With a net worth of $60 billion, that is less than 0.0002 percent of their wealth. The equivalent for someone with $1 million would be 46 cents a day for a year.

The unemployment rate is over 20 percent in our state. Workers are unable to pay their rents and have lost employer-sponsored health care. Their kids are out of school and missing breakfast and lunch. Our state will lose $5 billion in the next few months for public services, including health coverage, higher education, and early learning. And yet, islands of incredible wealth and privilege are abundant in Washington. Washington is home to 3 of the wealthiest 10 people in the world. We have 15 billionaires. Over 12,000 people have incomes over $1 million. 

The popular phrase is that we are all in this together. But we aren’t, are we? The wealthiest among us remain insulated from the pandemic crisis and the economic crisis. And it seems that they really don’t care. 

We should not be surprised. The wealthy do not contribute, and have never contributed, proportionately and in an equitable manner, to the public services of our state. Households with over half a million dollars in income pay less than 3 percent of their income in state and local taxes. The uber wealthy most likely pay less than 1 percent. Middle class families pay 10 percent and poor families pay 17 percent. 

Steve Ballmer contributed over $400,000 in 2010 to make sure he did not have to pay taxes in our state. Bezos threw in $100,000. Ballmer publicly opposed Seattle’s income tax on the affluent. They won. In our “progressive” state, there is no income tax on the wealthy. Now, in bad times, the uber-wealthy again want to make sure that they rise above the citizens of our state, casting out crumbs of beneficence when we need bakeries full of bread. 

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