There has been tremendous speculation over the past week as to what Romney really meant when he made his now infamous 47% comment. What is for certain is that Romney grossly misrepresented the Americans he lumped into this group in his statement.
I write the following not as a liberal democrat, but a moderate one who is for balanced budgets and fiscal discipline. I am for the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, not for draconian cuts. But what I am most certainly not for is the ill-conceived worldview of what is happening in our country that Romney espoused at that fundraiser.
The vast majority of the people that have been grouped into the 47% are working people. Almost two thirds of the 47% are currently working and their payroll taxes help to finance Social Security and Medicare. If one accounts for this, the percentage of households paying no net federal taxes drops to 28%.
There are also corporate taxes and federal taxes, state and local sales, property and income taxes to consider. Considering all these taxes, a family of three with an income of $30,000 would owe no federal income tax, but could easily pay more than 15% of their income in taxes.
Indeed, these people are earning low incomes. Their incomes have been zeroed out by the standard deduction and/or standard exemption, but they are working people. They are aspirational people, not dependent people.
The rest are either senior citizens or students who are getting loans and are expected to become taxpayers when they finish their education. Seniors in this group are on Medicare and have presumably paid taxes for all these years towards this program that is now caring for them in their old age, as it should be.
Of course there are variations in attitude towards government system. And there are surely people on welfare and on food stamps and those numbers have been growing as times have gotten worse. It may well be that those programs have gotten too expansive and need to be rolled back.
But to assume that 47% of the people are just sitting around and are “dependent” as Romney put it, is an illusory view of America.
To be sure, there are some votes in the 47% for Romney, but there is no definitive evidence that these people vote Democrat. And as has been widely reported, Romney already holds a lead with elderly voters, a key component of that 47%. What’s more, lower income whites could actually be giving close to a majority of their votes to Romney, putting his comments even further off the mark.
To my mind, the key point in all this discussion of Romney’s comments on the 47% is that the vast majority are not dependent victims, but rather hard working people, seniors, or students getting loans. They are people benefiting from tax incentives plans like the Earned Income Tax Credit – a program started by Ronald Reagan – that incentivizes work and other initiatives that are clearly not entitlements. They may well be social insurance schemes, but to see this group as monolithically dependent is wrong headed, misguided, and ultimately self-destructive for Governor Romney.