The marriage penalty is so 1950s

Martha Burk

TESS VIGELAND: If there's one good thing to come out of this weekend's nor'easter, it's this . . . Uncle Sam is giving some of you a break. The IRS says anyone directly affected by the storm has an extra two days to file their tax returns. For the rest of us, the deadline is midnight tonight. No matter who gets to file when, commentator Martha Burk says half of us always get the short end of the stick.


MARTHA BURK: Remember Ward and June Cleaver, your typical taxpaying couple of the 1950s? Ward went to work everyday and June cleaned the house and cared for the kids. The tax system back then was ; devised by men just like Ward, those with stay-at-home wives. And it discouraged half the population, women, from working outside the home.

Trouble is, we're still living with that old tax structure, and it punishes today's women, most of whom work.

First, there's the marriage penalty. Simply put, if June takes the plunge and lands a good full-time job, she and Ward pay more than two single workers. Her extra dollars are taxed at a higher rate.

If June stays home or only works part-time, her family pays less than it would if she and Ward were both single.

But both outcomes pressure June not to take a job.

Part-time work isn't worth it, after the litany a woman hears about the taxes, the wear-and-tear on the car, and the child care expenses — something that men never seem to assess against their own incomes.

And for every year she doesn't work, June gets a big fat zero in her main retirement account — Social Security. That means a meager payout in old age.

So married women get a double whammy. The income tax system pushes them toward home and hearth, and the Social Security system punishes them for it.

Let's get marriage out of the tax system. Like most of Western Europe, we need to treat each adult worker as an individual. That way, each family could make its decision about who works and how much on the basis of something other than tax policy. Something like whether they need the money, whether both enjoy working or want to build a career.

Most families now need two incomes. Why punish them with a tax system from the last century? Ward and June Cleaver don't live here any more.

VIGELAND: Martha Burk is Money Editor for Ms. Magazine.

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