Who Are the 47 Percent?

Romney couldn't have been more wrong when he dismissed half of Americans as entitled freeloaders.

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Tax Foundation

(The Root) -- Mitt Romney -- whose candidacy has been characterized by more "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Romney" moments than are easily quantifiable -- is finally starting to reveal who he really is.

Yesterday, veteran Washington reporter David Corn of Mother Jones magazine released a video that was secretly taped in May at a private campaign fundraiser, in which Romney expresses disdain for "the 47 percent" of Americans who, according to him, don't pay federal income taxes.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it … These are people who pay no income tax," Romney said. "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Yes. You read that correctly. 

Since when did half of all Americans cease to take "personal responsibility" or "care for their lives"? And why, pray tell, does Mitt think "those people" are so beyond help that he can't teach them to do so? 

This is a comedy of errors and may well be the moment Romney lost the campaign.

First, his statement reinforces what many Democrats and Republicans already believed -- that Romney is a wealthy man who has known nothing but privilege, and by either choice, circumstance or both, remains completely out of touch -- lacking any sense of the socioeconomic realities with which most people contend. 

Second, Romney's myopic assessment of the average American is simply dead wrong. And his gross mischaracterization of half of the populace as parasites who'd rather depend on government than work reveals an insidious ignorance that renders him unworthy of the office he seeks. 

Let's consider who the 47 percent actually are. According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, 46.4 percent of American households do not pay federal income taxes. This is partly due to a complicated tax code that offers a set of exemptions intended to favor working families. Indeed, the majority of that 46.4 percent do, in fact, work.

Here is the breakdown: Of those people Romney mischaracterized, 28.3 percent contribute payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare (they are not mooching off of society); 10.3 percent are retirees and the elderly, who -- because they've already paid into the system for many years -- are now receiving Social Security benefits that aren't levied a federal income tax; 6.9 percent are the non-elderly, working poor, who earn less than $20,000 a year. Others are veterans, who, due to injury, receive veterans' disability benefits. These patriotic citizens pay neither payroll nor income taxes, but still pay state, local and sales taxes. They are hardly people who don't care for their own lives.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM