Skip to main content
off the charts

States Should Center Black Women in Tax Reform

States and localities can realize more equitable, thriving economies by using their revenue policies to address the marginalization and exploitation of Black women. As I explain in a new paper, policymakers should chart a new course, using the Black Women Best economic principle, to craft a future where Black women — with their myriad intersecting identities and backgrounds — can meet their basic needs, attain and grow wealth, and share that wealth with future generations. Doing so will enable more prosperous, productive lives for all people.

Black women’s labor has underpinned economic progress since the nation’s earliest days. But state tax policies still largely exclude Black women from sharing in economic prosperity.

This system of disadvantage comes at most direct cost to Black women and families, but its impact extends to people of all races and ethnicities by preserving policy barriers that further entrench inequalities and limit states’ long-term economic growth. By allowing Black women’s economic well-being to remain an afterthought, states dampen the productive potential of all residents outside a relatively small, largely white, and disproportionately wealthy upper class.

Lawmakers can shift this paradigm by applying a Black Women Best framework — which argues that policymaking to address the economic well-being of Black women can consequently improve economic conditions for everyone — to state tax policy. This will require dismantling policies that protect and grow white advantage and obstruct Black women’s economic empowerment, implementing more equitable revenue-raising policies, and investing in both income and wealth support to address intersecting gender, racial, income, and wealth gaps — where Black women sit at the center.

We recommend four primary areas of tax reforms to prioritize Black women’s well-being and equitably raise sufficient revenue for broader investments.

  1. Promote income stability for Black women. Black women are overrepresented among those with low incomes due to intersecting racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination in the labor market and other aspects of their lives. States can better support them by prioritizing tax policies that help to stabilize and increase incomes for people earning low wages or who have little or no income. Employing policies such as renters’ credits, inclusive earned income tax credits, and child tax credits that are available regardless of a family’s tax liability will promote income stability that can help counter the discrimination Black women face and better reward the value of their labor.
  2. Shift how state revenue policies influence wealth-building. White households hold 87 percent of all wealth across the country, and the richest 10 percent of white households hold nearly two-thirds of all wealth. States should implement more equitable fiscal policy by expanding policies that increase long-term income security and opportunities for Black women to build wealth for future generations, such as by bolstering access and contributions to tax-exempt or tax-deferred retirement plans and by ending wealth-stripping policies like criminal legal fees.
  3. Enact bolder, fairer, and more equitable revenue-raising policies. States can begin to reverse the legacy of white supremacy in their tax codes by requiring higher-income households and profitable corporations — which are much likelier to be white and largely white-owned, respectively — to pay a greater share toward public investments. States have many options to equitably raise revenues, including enacting state millionaires’ taxes, strengthening inheritance and estate taxes, raising corporate taxes, and cracking down on corporate tax avoidance through worldwide combined reporting. Enacting these sorts of policies would enable states to raise significant additional revenue that they can use to increase opportunity for Black women and begin to repair the economic, health-related, and social harm caused by centuries of underinvestment in marginalized communities.
  4. Remove barriers to raising additional revenue. Arbitrary fiscal limits and rules — such as supermajority requirements for raising revenue and ballot initiatives, preemption of local taxing power, and strict caps on property tax rates — exist in many states and constrain lawmakers’ ability to equitably raise state revenue and invest it in people and communities in ways that would begin to redress the economic oppression of Black women. Eliminating these barriers is an important step toward strengthening democratic power and promoting truly shared prosperity.

For too long, state lawmakers have accepted leaving Black women behind in tax policy — uninvolved in policy design, overburdened through policy application, and undervalued in assessments of policy outcomes. Black Women Best is an opportunity to take a brighter path: to bring Black women from the margins to the center of policymaking, reforming policy around their circumstances and contributions. In doing so, states can push back against the discriminatory effects of previous tax codes and craft new strategies that enhance the potential of all people, including those whose labor and talents have traditionally been undervalued.

States can open doors for everyone if they are willing to have Black women lead the way.