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Bellagio Center Residents on Democracy, Workers’ Rights, and Tax Policies

Over the last year, The Rockefeller Foundation has had the privilege of supporting an influential group of domestic leaders in the economic equity sphere through our Bellagio Center Residency Program. Each in their own way are working to promote economic and racial equity in the U.S. at the nexus of democracy, workers’ rights, and tax policies that center workers over capital.

Many of the individuals you’ll see featured in this Bellagio Perspective are affiliated with The Rockefeller Foundation’s Economic Equity initiative’s pro-worker portfolio. Our hope is that a more racially just tax system will support labor instead of capital, reducing inequity and promoting pro-worker policies to ensure working families have stability and that we contribute to closing the racial wealth gap.

Vehicles to Promote Racial and Economic Justice

With the many levels of support that workers need, why is The Rockefeller Foundation focused on tax policy? How does this link to racial and economic justice?

It turns out that the tax system is the center from which so many other systems are created and the main vehicle for how the U.S. government structures incentives and disincentives. A recent example is the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, passed to address the world’s climate crisis, that has 73 percent of its green investments in the form of tax benefits. If those benefits are implemented poorly or lose challenges in the courts, the $270 billion in green investment won’t be realized.

The tax code even sends a message about our country’s values. The U.S. Department of Treasury recently released a first-ever audit, Disparities in the Benefits of Tax Expenditures by Race and Ethnicity, that analyzed tax return data by race and ethnicity. It showed that white Americans collect 92 percent of the benefits from provisions in the tax code such as lower rates on capital gains and dividends, and advantages like the mortgage interest deduction and the charitable deduction.

Based on a recent study from Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Black taxpayers are audited 2.9 to 4.8 times more than their non-Black peers.

At The Rockefeller Foundation, we started our work in this sector with the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), focused on benefits. We wanted to get unconditional cash into people’s pockets.

We want the values of the tax code to reflect the needs of working families, no matter their race, ethnicity, or gender. We want our tax system to support economic policies that ensure working families thrive, like paid-leave, a fully refundable CTC, an EITC that doesn’t tax low-wage workers into poverty, and affordable childcare.

The work of Ai-Jen Poo, Cecille Blondet, Darrick Hamilton, Erica Smiley, Rebecca Dixon, whose voices you’ll hear from, as well as the work of Chye-Ching Huang and Dorothy Brown, is critical to shape a future where workers are at the center of our tax code and the many economic policies that impact their day-to-day lives and that racial equity is at the forefront of every decision we make in this country.

They join Amara Enyia and Rick Banks for this Bellagio Perspective series, exploring what racial equity looks like in higher education and through reparations in the U.S. and globally, in our continued quest to be a more just and equitable world.

Tax Policy is Personal

For me, this work is personal.

I grew up working class and have first-hand experience applying for and using benefits – Food Stamps, Medicaid, Pell grants – as a child and an adult. I interned for the United Nations after completing a Fulbright research grant and graduating with my Master of Sciences from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and I still needed food stamps and Medicaid to get by.

I am now in a different socio-economic class, making me somewhat of a statistical anomaly – this is changing, albeit slowly – as a former poor kid working in the least equitable sector in American society, American philanthropy. I straddle class lines, education lines, and, as someone continuously mistaken for a person of color, racial and ethnic lines.

I am honored to be able to work in this space which is so personal to me, and, I hope that you are moved by the perspectives, stories and dedication of the visionary leaders we are featuring in this latest edition of Bellagio Perspectives.

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Bellagio Perspectives: Racial and Economic Justice

In this issue, we dive into the work of Amara Enyia, Cecille Blondet, Erica Smiley, Darrick Hamilton, Rick Banks, Rebecca Dixon, and Ai-jen Poo—all leading groundbreaking work to address racial and economic inequality.