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Nov. 6 2009 - 9:54 am | 124 views | 0 recommendations | 12 comments

Illinois: hitting up the poor for their bottom dollar

Image from Magical Screencaps

Image from Magical Screencaps

If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Robin Hood, you might remember a scene where the rotund sheriff of Nottingham steals the birthday present of a 7 year-old rabbit, a gold coin his poor rabbit family scrimped and saved to give him.

The state of Illinois is getting in on that action.

A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows 16 states that gouge even the poorest of the poor on their income taxes.

The report measured the threshold at which states stop taxing – how low you can go until you don’t owe. Illinois? We can go pretty low.

A family of four living at the poverty level – $22,017 for the year – pays $214 in state income taxes.

We’re still a-taxing at three-quarters of the poverty line – $16, 513 for a family of four.

People often ask me, “Why do people stay so long in public housing? Isn’t it meant as a stepping stone to get out of poverty?”

Well, public housing rents in Chicago are 30 percent of your income. You make a little more – a 50 cent raise on the minimum wage you get at your job – and you pay a little more. Any extra you get – that you might have saved for a security deposit on your own place or for a higher rent – it goes away.

We can’t expect the poor to miraculously rise out of poverty if we keep stealing the little bits they’re able to save.

$200 isn’t much, but to  family making $22,017 a year – it’s a lot. Think about what that can buy. Winter coats for kids who outgrew last year’s. A month’s worth of groceries at Save A Lot. This year’s Christmas presents. Your kid’s school uniforms. A good chunk of rent money. An insurance premium. A doctor’s bill.

This policy is draconian. Sure, the state of Illinois needs money.  But surely it can find better revenue sources than this.

We need to change the tax laws, or find a modern-day Robin Hood.


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  1. collapse expand

    Megan,
    Thanks for your post.
    Check out:
    http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodCost-Home.htm
    Even on the most thrifty of plans our government says that a family of four’s food costs just over $500 per month. The THRIFTY plan.
    It’s more that a lot to poor families; it’s essential.
    Sarah

  2. collapse expand

    oh we need a new robin hood so bad. that would be amazing. wealth redistribution isn’t looked at too kindly these days though… maybe the reds just need to wear green and carry a bow.

  3. collapse expand

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Robin Hood lately myself. Halloween costume aside, we really could use one about now…

  4. collapse expand

    I agree with you completely on this one Megan. (Except the part about needing a Robin Hood of course. Nobody should be robbing people for any reason.) It’s another example of how government holds back the poorest of this country. I myself would advocate for the abolition of all income taxes. Of course we would need to cut spending, and since that won’t be happening anytime soon, it isn’t very realistic. Oh well, we can always dream about the day government will become responsible again.

    “I predict future happiness for Americans
    if they can prevent the government
    from wasting the labors of the people
    under the pretense of taking care of them.” -Thomas Jefferson

    • collapse expand

      It’s so rare that we agree. I don’t know if I’m for abolishing all taxes, but I really like the TJ quote. I think a lot of the money we spend on the poor is wasted on programs that suck – like welfare. I think we could find smarter ways to use that money.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Not all taxes, just the income tax. They account for about 38% of the government’s income. I think if people weren’t forced to give as much money away, they would be much more charitable towards the poor. These private charities usually run much more efficiently than the government, as I’m sure you have been able to observe.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Ms. Cottrell,

    You are obviously terribly naïve. Of course states are going to gouge the poor for tax money, who else are they going to gouge? They cannot gouge the rich! Hello! The rich can hire lawyers and accountants to fight back. That is why they are rich. It would take years to recover any gouged money from the rich and would cost a fortune. Besides, what would the poor do with that non-gouged money? They would just waste in on food, clothing, housing, you know, junk like that. How is that going help the economy? You see, when the rich get hand-outs from the government, they invest that money. Just look at AIG, they got billions of dollars in hand-outs and what did they do with it? Why they invested it in job creating bonuses and stock options. The rich are different from you and I, they know how money works and they make it work for them. In fact rather than tax the rich at all, what states should tax the poor even more, take all of their money, and just give it to the rich to help them create more jobs.

    You really have to get out more so how the world really works.

    • collapse expand

      Sorry David, but I think you’re the one that needs to learn how the world works. In 2006 the top 20 percent of income earners paid 86.3 percent of all federal income taxes, and the top 1 percent of income earners pay 40 percent of all federal income taxes. And those numbers are only going up for the rich under Obama. I’m not saying if this is right or wrong, but some simple research would prove your statement wrong.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    Robin Hood may well have a nice mythological reputation, but as far as “rebranding” goes, choosing a thief to represent your cause is hardly going to make things an easier sell. Even a nice thief is still a thief.

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

    I have this idea about journalism - that it should be approachable and less "newsy." I want my stories to make you laugh, cry and draw you in to neighborhoods and situations you don't deal with every day. I hate the broadcaster voice. I hate TV news. I hate the inverted pyramid. I love surprise. I love humor. I love people and telling their stories.

    In addition to being a journalist, I also teach dance for the Chicago Public Schools. I don't just do it for the money. I love children and love arts education. I'm also on the board of a new nonprofit dedicated to helping the underserved find jobs called Employing Hope. I write fiction, keep house, and am generally a renaissance woman.

    Follow me on twitter @mmcottrell.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 93
    Contributor Since: October 2009
    Location:Chicago