Tax Wall Street

Local nurse submits a modest proposal

Elizabeth Pataki is a retired Sacramento registered nurse and former board member of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United

When politicians in Washington, D.C., debate how much to cut from Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid or other basic programs while failing to touch the record profits and financial misdeeds on Wall Street, it’s time to say we need a change.

I worked past age 70 as a registered nurse in Sacramento and still retired with minimal savings. Why? Because my children either had no health coverage or it was inadequate to provide needed care. Here’s what happened.

My first child was grabbed from behind at a college cafe, turned to strike at the offender and broke her hand. Due to minimal college insurance, a simple cast was placed on her broken hand—which resulted in a weak, misshapen hand. Fearing the hand would not be functional, I paid for an orthopedic surgeon to reset the hand—at the cost of one-fifth of my savings.

My second child, unemployed and homeless after being displaced from a flooded city, developed a potentially serious health issue. Fortunately, after expensive tests, the situation was resolved—but at another huge cost to my remaining savings.

My third child, seriously ill, also had minimal school insurance, which ran out. The hospitalizations, consultations, ongoing care, medication, travel and support expenses used up almost all of my remaining savings.

My situation is hardly unique.

And yet, in the midst of the worst economic crisis our nation has seen in many decades, our political leaders are planning additional huge reductions in programs that provide assistance for the families on Main Street, while continuing to resist requiring those who created this financial calamity to pay their fair share.

Nurses across the country have seen a precipitous increase in health problems that have a direct link to the lack of jobs, low wages, retirement insecurity, substandard housing and poor access to health care. And it’s not just anecdotal.

A UNICEF report from last December found the United States is a paltry 22nd in health well-being for children among industrial nations. A June study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations found that life expectancies, relative to other developed nations, fell in more than 80 percent of U.S. counties between 2000 and 2007—even before the 2008 recession hit.

One reason is the shocking disparity in wealth and resources in our nation. Consider a report from late June by Northeastern University economists. From June 2009 through the end of last year, corporate profits captured 88 percent of the growth in real national income, compared to just one percent for aggregate wages and salaries.

America’s nurses have proposed an alternative to the parade of endless budget cuts to our social fabric.

A small fee on Wall Street speculation, the major transactions on dividends, credit default swaps, stocks, bonds and futures—the very fiscal wheeling and dealing that left Main Street families shattered and in pain—could raise hundreds of billions of dollars every year to rebuild our hurting nation.

Nor would it put us at a competitive disadvantage. More than 15 nations in the world, including Great Britain, have a financial transaction tax on major speculative activity—as we did in the United States until 1966—and the European Union is close to adopting a continentwide tax.

If Goldman-Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the other financial giants that put us in such economic peril can get bailouts and bonuses, shouldn’t they start taking care of Main Street families as well?