Why Romney’s Wrong About the 47%

“There are 47% who are with [Obama], 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.” – Mitt Romney

For the entire election season, Mitt Romney’s fought the mantra of “rich white guy”. The President and his campaign have hammered the Republican nominee over his perceived “silver spoon” attitude and lack of compassion. With an estimated net worth of $200 million, and policies that seemed to favor the rich over the poor, those charges were nearly impossible to refute. Now, in a matter of 20 seconds, Romney’s done the impossible: absolutely affirmed Obama’s main talking point. He proved, despite months of image refinement and public campaigning, that he’s completely out of touch with American society.

47% of American taxpayers don’t pay income taxes. Thus, according to Mitt Romney, 47% of Americans depend on the government for their livelihood and want to turn this country into a Socialist nanny-state. These people don’t want to work, they don’t want to pay taxes, and they want the government to feed, clothe, and shelter them…right? Wrong. Absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

Romney’s 47% doesn’t exist; it’s merely a conservative lie that’s been fed to us for years. Let me break it down. According to numbers from Ezra Klein (via the Tax Policy Center), 53.6% of American taxpayers pay income taxes. That means, in a sense, Romney’s right. 47% of taxpayers don’t pay income taxes. However, of that 47%, 28.3% pay payroll taxes, which currently sit at a rate of 15%. Thus, not surprisingly, 30% of Romney’s lazy welfare bums actually pay a higher tax rate than he does (15% as opposed to 13.9%). In addition, 10.3% of the people who don’t pay income taxes are senior citizens who receive their income via non-taxable Social Security payouts. Consequently, of the 47% of people who don’t pay income taxes, only 6.9% (non-elderly, annual income of $20,000 or less) would qualify as “welfare bums.”

However, calling these people “bums” fails to reveal who they really are. As someone who’s grown up in a relatively well-to-do household, I don’t pretend to understand what low-income families go through every day. These families endure unspeakable pain and suffering, and yet, Republicans continue to use the offensive “welfare bum” moniker when describing them.

The offensive image that Romney presented at that fundraiser couldn’t be further from the truth. Millions of individuals rely on food stamps and other government programs just to stay alive and feed their families. The vast majority of those millions would gladly take a job if it were offered them, but because of the tough job market and bad economy, few have that option. In short, it’s wrong to call people who don’t pay income or payroll taxes “dependent” and “lazy” when many of them struggle through no fault of their own.

Romney also forgot about one small detail when he called 47% of Americans dependent freeloaders: Republican policies caused this problem in the first place. Let me explain. When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, roughly 21% of American taxpayers paid no federal income tax. By the time George H.W. Bush left office in 1993, about 31% of taxpayers paid no income tax. During Bill Clinton’s 8 years, the number of Americans not paying income taxes rose by a mere 3%. Thus, when George W. Bush entered office in 2001, 34.1% of American taxpayers weren’t paying income taxes. By the time he left office in 2009, 49.5% of Americans didn’t pay income taxes. Therefore, between the years 1981 and 2009, Republican policies produced a 25.5% increase in the amount of taxpayers not paying income taxes, while Democratic policies produced a mere 3% increase. Why is this? Because, as Ezra Klein so aptly points out, Republicans were forced to propose tax cuts for the poor in order to convince Congress to pass massive tax cuts for the rich. Consequently, Romney’s complaints are blatantly hypocritical, because he’s demonizing a tax code that his party wrote.

Finally, the tax code that Romney is proposing lacks fairness. Even as an fiscal conservative, I despise tax reform that places a greater burden on the poor and shifts responsibility from the rich. In my eyes, a fair tax code is a graduated one. I base this opinion on the fact that someone making $20,000 annually will have a much harder time paying a 15% income tax than someone earning $1,000,000 annually. As a conservative, I believe our tax rates should be low. However, that doesn’t mean the upper class should pay less than the lower class.

Hence, Romney was, is, and always shall be wrong. The 47% doesn’t exist and he knows it. His complete lack of compassion and faulty ideas of “fairness” should worry all of us, and even though I still support him over President Obama, I’m beginning to fear he may not be much better.