In Print

A Very Taxing Situation

Taxing Women
by Edward J. McCaffery
University of Chicago Press, $29.95
YOU BOTH WORK but your family never seems to get ahead.
For the culprit, advises a USC tax expert, look no further than your 1040 form.
“The average working wife in a middle- or upper-income household loses two-thirds of her salary to taxes and work-related expense,” Edward J. McCaffery writes in Taxing Women (University of Chicago Press).
McCaffery’s analysis turns on a little-understood feature of the tax system. Most people are aware only of their average tax rate – their total income divided by their tax liability. For a clearer grasp of the tax system’s impact on women, McCaffery focuses on the rate at which any new increment of income is taxed. This “marginal tax rate” climbs as income rises.
For married couples, income from the second – or lesser – earner is taxed at the level of primary earner’s income. Since married women, on average, make about 60 percent of what married men do, the “second earner” is usually a wife.
Take the example of “Ursula,” a single woman who earns $30,000. She pays no tax on her first $10,000, but pays 15 percent on her remaining $20,000, for a total liability of $3,000.
However, if Ursula marries “Umberto Upperclass,” who earns $60,000, her income will be taxed in the 30 percent bracket. Thus the tax liability on her $30,000 has jumped from $3,000 to $9,000, dropping her take–home pay to $21,000. And that’s not counting Social Security or state and local taxes, child care or such other work-related costs as commuting, parking, dry cleaning or eating more frequently in restaurants.
“Tax laws make very literal the ‘marginalization’ of women,” McCaffery says. “By adding together husband and wife, tax laws encourage families to look at the impact of the wife’s earnings on both the family’s bottom line and its general happiness. The wife’s employment outside the home becomes marginal or discretionary, and a gendered division of labor becomes further entrenched.”

Edward McCaffery

THE BIAS AGAINST two- earner families cuts differently at different income levels.
Take “Laura and Larry Lowerclass,” who have two children. As a factory worker, Larry makes $15,000. The family pays no income taxes; under the simplified married rate schedule, only income over $16,000 is taxed. Moreover, the family is eligible for about $2,000 in government assistance in the form of an earned-income credit for poor families.
By taking a full-time job that pays $10,000 a year, or about $5 an hour, Laura causes the family to lose the $2,000 benefit. Further, $9,000 of Laura’s income is taxed in the 15 percent income bracket. That costs the family another $1,350 in income taxes. Social Security taxes take away another $800, and yet another $1,000 goes to state and local taxes.
If Laura pays just $100 a week for child care, all of her take-home pay of $5,000 will go to this end. She will, however, be eligible for a child–care credit of $1,050, which would be the only financial benefit from working.
Work–related expenses of just $50 a week bring Laura’s net yield down to a negative $1,450. “She has lost money by working,” McCaffery says.

JUST AS TAXES can be part of the problem, they can be a large part of the solution, McCaffery says. He recommends lowering tax rates across the board, particularly for high earners who react to taxes by staying home. He also recommends taxing married women at a lower rate than married men and increasing tax credits for child care. McCaffery also believes America should join most developed countries in abolishing joint-filing, which forces second-earners to be taxed at a higher rate than primary earners.
“This country could be richer, could be bigger, the pie would grow and would expand if we made it a little easier for women to work, if we made it a little easier to get child care, and if we lowered those high tax rates facing wives.”

– Meg Sullivan

Jekyll on Trial: Multiple Personality Disorder & Criminal Law
by Elyn R. Saks with Stephen H. Behnke
New York University Press, $29.95

“Multiple personality disorder has long captured the public’s imagination,” writes Elyn R. Saks, professor of law, psychiatry and behavioral sciences. What happens when one personality commits a heinous crime, while another personality within that person would abhor such an act? Saks draws on law, psychiatry and philosophy, delineating how MPD forces a re-examination of our concepts of personhood, responsibility and punishment.

A History of Keyboard Literature:
Music for the Piano and Its Forerunners
by Stewart Gordon
Schirmer Books $40.00

Stewart Gordon, professor and chair of keyboard studies in the School of Music, presents a comprehensive, easily accessible history of literature for all stringed keyboard instruments, focusing on mainstream works in the current concert repertoire for pianists. As well, he provides commentary on every major composer, paying special attention to the piano repertoire of the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

Theory & Practice of Writing: An Applied Linguistic Perspective
by William Grabe and Robert B. Kaplan
Longman, $34.43

Robert B. Kaplan, emeritus professor of applied linguistics, and William Grabe of Northern Arizona University summarize various theoretical strands that have been recently explored by applied linguists and other researchers, and draw these strands together into a coherent overview of the nature of written text. The authors also suggest methods for the teaching of writing consistent with the nature, processes and social context of writing.



Photograph of McCaffery by Irene Fertik / photograph of book by Dan Logan

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