Digital Inequality and the IRS

Inequality is “an unfair situation in which some people have more rights or better opportunities than other people.”  The definition of inequality is “the quality of being unequal or uneven” and can include social disparity and disparity of distribution or opportunity (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inequality).

In terms of digital inequality, this can also be referenced as a technology gap.  I understand this very personally, because I was raised in a blue-collar family that was largely against computers when I was growing up.  I think my parents either hated or were scared of computers, and my Mom as a postal carrier never had need of a computer.  Today she gets upset when coupons are e-mail only since she doesn’t do e-mail, however, now that she is retired she surprised me when she took an entry level computer class with her friend at the community college.  Personally, I never owned a computer or laptop in college.  I would sometimes borrow my friend’s or my boyfriend’s computer, but mostly I would live at the library or computer lab when I needed to write papers.  Finances were an issue, and my first real computer came once I graduated with my Bachelors and Masters degrees and bought an old computer from an acquaintance for $100.  I know my experience may not be typical, but it is important to note that not every family can afford computers and technology, which can be very expensive.  This reality does set a child behind in school and can be a learning disadvantage.  A pencil and notebook is much less expensive than a laptop and affording home internet, and for parent’s struggling to put food on the table, technology is most likely not a priority.

Tonight I was disappointed and concerned when I went to my local library that is a star library in my state (Illinois) to pick up my federal and state tax forms and booklets.  Earlier in the week I had no success picking up the tax forms at the main post office that always stocks them, so I figured that perhaps I was thinking about my taxes late this year and the post office was just out of everything.  However, the sign at my local library said that the IRS decided to not send federal tax booklets this year to places that they always send them, like post offices and libraries. An extremely helpful woman at the library reference desk pointed out that the IRS also did not send supplementary forms like years previously, and a library staff member had to repeatedly call and ask for tax instruction booklets, only to be given 10 booklets that were quickly gone.  Also, there were no IL-1040 forms or booklets at all, and it was unclear to me what the library was given regarding state forms.

People looking for tax booklets were instructed to go online to look up the information.  This is not a good option for people who want to use a tax booklet and a paper form to mail their taxes in the old-fashioned way, which many older people still do.  Also, the library had a sheet with a phone number to call to have tax forms mailed to you.  That is a decent option for people that aren’t trying to do their taxes that night or at the last minute.  However, it is a hardship and a hurdle for taxpayers to jump through when instruction tax guides are not free and easily accessible to people of all income levels.  Many people may not have access to the internet at home, and most people would not like doing confidential tax information at the local library. I think this situation is inequality since it is social disparity and a disparity of opportunity for people of lower income levels.

Libraries and post offices are hubs of their community and provide services to people regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, or other factors.  While I can understand the IRS wanting to save money in the costs of printing and mailing forms, which is good both economically and environmentally, it still troubles me that this move results in an inequality that epitomizes the technology gap that is a way of life for many citizens in the United States of America.  I am a fan of freedom, and my hope is that people who are comfortable with old school paper tax forms can easily find and use them, while people who are comfortable with internet tax filing can utilize the internet to file their taxes.  I do not want to see either option cease to exist.

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