by Bennet Vining
Growing up in Washington, I would often hear the “aspirational” success stories of white entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, paired with the line: “You can do anything with hard work!” Like many other young People of Color, I bought into this dream. But as I grew older, the dream was quickly washed away by the reality that our state only sets folks like Gates and Bezos up for success.
Many Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color experiencing poverty, especially during the pandemic, know firsthand that housing, education, and basic needs are extremely difficult to maintain without the generational wealth some Washingtonians were born with. Still, every day, we hear from the people around us that we just need to work harder, be smarter with our money, or learn how to invest. Usually, the people telling us this are white and painfully unaware of the way our economy has been quietly benefiting them and harming us.
I was told that education is the key to success. I was sure that if I studied hard, got good grades, and graduated I would be able to make a better life for my family.
I finished college in March of 2020 when the world shut down. A year has passed since graduation and I am still struggling to manage rent and basic necessities. My parents’ work was also limited once COVID hit, and coming from an immigrant family, we didn’t have generational wealth as a cushion. Many other families like mine have also faced unique obstacles this year, especially if they have kids that are still in school.
Because schools are operating remotely, stable housing is absolutely essential for accessing education. However, there are families struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads. Students aren’t worried about their next assignment when they are worried about where they are going to sleep for the night or what their next meal will be. Students who do not have access to reliable internet or a fancy computer cannot do their best work from home.
Educators in our local schools are also seeing the strain on our communities. One of the teachers at my former school, Garfield High School, told me how frustrated he is with the lack of resources, especially when he can see the wealth hoarding happening in Washington. There are billionaires in our state raking in profits while his school has 150 students who are unhoused, and other schools around the state can’t afford a school nurse.
The wealth inequality and education gaps in our state are not a matter of who works hard enough. Our economy was designed this way. Despite the progressive facade, Washington has the most regressive tax code in the nation, meaning we ask those with the least to pay the most to fund community investments like education. People with the highest earnings get away with paying six times less of their income in taxes than those of us with the lowest incomes. This disadvantages BIPOC people from lower-income backgrounds, while the wealthy few only get richer.
To invest in the economic stability of our state, we must invest in our POC students’ access to quality education and their quality of life. That means changing the racially oppressive systems that prevent communities of color from thriving. More than ever, now is the time to start undoing years of racist policies by making the changes that we know will make our economy more equitable. There is only one week left in the legislative session, and there are big opportunities for our tax code.
While we invest more in the futures of our communities of color, Washington should also be asking the wealthy 1% to finally start paying their share. Common sense policies like a tax on extraordinary profits from selling stocks and bonds would make sure that the people making money during this pandemic are pitching in to invest in our communities. This capital gains tax, which our state House passed on Wednesday, could fund early learning and childcare if it becomes law, setting kids up for success in their later education.
The capital gains tax could also help fund the Recovery Rebate (Working Families Tax Credit), which will soon be signed into law by Gov. Inslee. The rebate will put cash back in the pockets of lower-income, working families, including undocumented immigrants. It also would especially benefit children, as the boost would benefit about one in four kids across the state.
Extra money going to families will mean students pick up fewer work shifts to supplement their family’s income. Extra money going to families will mean the internet bill gets paid for schoolwork. Extra money going to families will mean another month of rent paid, keeping students in their homes.
These are the steps we need to take to ensure the wealth in our state is being used to fund community safety and education. We have tremendous wealth in our state and it’s time to use it to set all of our students on a path to success.
I have learned early on that my hard work alone will not bolster myself and my family into prosperity. It is going to take the restructuring of racist systems so that all of us have a fair shot at our American Dreams.
Bennet Vining is a Beacon Hill resident and the lead organizer at All In for Washington, a statewide, People of Color-led effort to clean up our upside-down tax code and reinvest in communities of color.
📸 Featured image: A painting by young women artists in the Seattle-based Young Women Empowered (YWE) Create program, on display in Olympia as part of the “Invest in Us” pop-up art exhibit organized by Balance Our Tax Code. The exhibit featured artwork in support of legislation to create a capital gains tax in Washington (SB 5096). Other featured artists included barry johnson from Federal Way, Mari Shibuya, Nick Leppman, and Dujie Tahat from Seattle, Jacob Johns of Spokane, (a member of the Hopi and Akimel O’odham nations), and West McLean from Vashon Island (all the artwork on display can be viewed here).
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