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The 47%: Romney was Right, but He Didn’t Tell Us Anything New

It’s not only what you say…it’s how you say it.  Just ask Mitt Romney.

He turned heads when he unknowingly broadcast his thoughts about the 47% of voters who will vote for President Obama “no matter what”.  He may have written off a segment of the voting population a long time ago, but it sounded wrong when he said it out loud.

But he was right about one thing: 47% of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes.

Still, it would have sounded better if, rather than implying that people who don’t pay income taxes are dependent on the government, he said 47% would not care about his plans to lower income taxes because it wouldn’t benefit them, and therefore they probably wouldn’t vote for him.

To be clear, the 47% refers to people who don’t pay income taxes.  Some of the 47% still pay payroll taxes (about 18% of Americans pay no income or payroll taxes).    And given that 45 states impose a sales tax, it is almost impossible to pay absolutely no taxes at all.

When you look into the demographics of the 47%, they fall into three groups:  the elderly, the low-income, and the working poor (a map of the states with the highest poverty rates bears a resemblance to the map above).

They may not have the best circumstances, but the 47% are at least happy about the amount of taxes they aren’t paying.  Earlier this year, when Gallup polled Americans on whether the amount of income taxes they pay is too high, exactly 47% said the amount they paid is “about right”.  No surprise.

Romney may have been ‘inelegant’ in his choice of words, but he didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know…the 47% just didn’t get this much attention before his comments.

“47%” made a few headlines back in 2009 and 2010.  The concern then was that the number of households with no income tax liability was growing: in 2007, 38% of households owed no income taxes.  In 2009, the number grew to 46.9%.

And the concern today is that a shrunken pool of taxpayers will struggle under the weight of a burgeoning deficit.


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