Over the last few weeks, thousands of people from across the country have taken to the streets to demand the biggest corporations in the U.S. pay their fair share of taxes. Last week, Bank of America was the latest corporation to face the wrath of shareholders and protesters for its business practices; this week,it's JPMorgan Chase, which is at the center of shareholder anger after losing $2 billion in investments, and Morgan Stanley, which has slashed jobs and rewarded its executives with lavish pay and bonuses despite its role in thefinancial meltdown.
The America that allows huge corporations to cut jobs here at home and get large tax breaks in the process is not the America I fought for. What has happened to basic fairness in our economy when so many troops come back from their service, unable to find a decent job, yet still pay more in taxes than the likes of billionaires or huge corporations like GE?
Veterans have served our country at considerable sacrifice. No one enlists to become rich or famous. We've spent significant time away from our families and worked in life-threatening situations. We care about our country and we invest in it every day with our time and expertise. We work hard and play by the rules. Along with almost everyone else in this country, veterans pay our taxes so that our kids can go to school, so we have clean air and water, and healthcare when we need it. Veterans also pay our taxes to help provide people currently serving in our military with the resources they need, both in the field and when they come home.
As it turns out, big corporations aren't playing by the same rules -- and our communities are paying for it. Families are struggling to stay in their homes, facing joblessness and cuts to vital services. Our children's schools are crumbling and the American Dream -- a good life for those who work hard and play by the rules -- is receding further and further out of sight.
Many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were part of the National Guard. While they can't be laid-off while deployed, there was no guarantee the company or small business they worked for would exist when they came home. Military families are particularly hard-hit, often having to make do with less income while loved ones are deployed, and expenses like child care increase in a temporary one-parent household. They need relief.
Yet corporations like General Electric, Wells Fargo and Bank of America rake in billions and get away with paying no federal income taxes, or are taxed at a lower rate than those serving in the military. Their refusal to pay their fair share has cost our economy billions of dollars that could fund Medicare, education, veterans' services, and create jobs for men and women returning from service.
Tax-dodging General Electric was once a shining example of American enterprise, providing good jobs that could support families. Entire towns and cities grew around GE plants and generations of families worked for GE for their entire lives. Innovation and job creation went hand in hand and as GE grew, so did our economy.
Now, GE is the poster-child for corporate tax-dodging. GE keeps billions offshore, avoiding U.S. taxes. It lavishes millions on executives while cutting tens of thousands of jobs, and employs an army of tax attorneys and political lobbyists like Capitol Tax Partners (which also lobbies for Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, State Street Corporation and other Wall Street giants that crashed the economy) to buy influence, invent and lobby for corporate tax loopholes, and keep GE ahead of its tax bill.
From 2008 to 2011, while hundreds of millions of Americans lost their jobs, their homes, and their dreams, GE made $10.5 billion in U.S. profits. Rather than pay federal income taxes, GE received $4.7 billion from U.S. taxpayers. We pay income taxes even on our unemployment insurance, but GE got away with paying a scant 2.3 percent in taxes over the last decade.
GE claims they've used these loopholes to create jobs. But that's not true. Since 2004, GE has cut 32,000 jobs, even though the corporation's board of directors is stacked with "job creators." Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for the youngest age bracket of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans topped 20 percent last year.
Those of us who served this country didn't do so in order to safeguard tax loopholes for the wealthiest 1 percent and giant corporations. We have a deep sense of duty and loyalty to our communities, to our children's futures, and to seeing our fellow Americans achieve their dreams.
It is time that those of us who served our country, and those we served for, join together to demand an economy and an America that work for all of us.
Jon Soltz is an Iraq War Veteran and Chairman of VoteVets.org.