Who are the 47 percent?
The Occupy Wall Street movement made news a year ago with the slogan, “We are the 99 percent.” Perhaps it’s just inflation, but now the question is “who are the 47 percent?”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney brought the question to the fore with comments he made back in May at a private fundraiser. The comments were recorded and the recording recently made public.
In the leaked video, among other things, Romney refers to 47 percent of Americans who he says will vote for President Obama no matter what he does because they are dependent on government and have an entitlement complex.
Math being what it is, writing off nearly half the electorate is rarely a wise political move. It leaves you a rather small margin for error.
How did Romney come up with the 47 percent figure? This is, according to him, the percentage of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes. So let’s take a look at who they are.
The Washington Post, in a rare exercise of actual journalism, came up with some good information.
It’s actually 46.4 percent of the country that doesn’t pay the federal income tax. A small difference. That number is unusually high right now due to the recession; it’s typically around 40 percent. As much as Romney might like to blame the recession on the president, the reality is that he inherited an economy hemorrhaging jobs and that appeared headed into a severe depression. The recovery hasn’t been as fast or as strong as any of us would like, but the recession itself can hardly be laid at Obama’s feet.
Of those 44 percent who do not pay federal income taxes, nearly a quarter (or 10.3% of all Americans) are elderly. It’s certainly true that many retired people depend on social security for a substantial part of their income, but if that makes them parasites on the economy who will automatically vote for the president, Mr. Romney’s view is rather narrow indeed.
Of the remainder, the majority (or 28.3% of all Americans) do pay payroll taxes. Payroll taxes fund the social security and Medicare systems. They tend to be very regressive because they apply to only the first $110,100 of income. Wealthy people like Mr. Romney pay very little in payroll taxes because the vast majority of their high incomes aren’t subject to them. Moreover, Romney’s income comes largely from investments, which are not only taxed at a lower rate than work-based income, but which aren’t subject to payroll taxes at all.
Another group, representing 6.9 percent of all Americans according to the Post, are those who are not elderly, but whose incomes are under $20,000.
The primary reason many people pay no income taxes is that they have very low incomes.
Mr. Romney doesn’t spend much time addressing how to help these people. He claims to have a plan to add 12 million new jobs (the exact number Moody’s Analytics predicts will be created no matter who is president; Macroeconomic advisors estimates 12.3 million; the Congressional Budget Office says 9.6 million, down from a previous estimate of 11 million), but he give almost no details as to how exactly he’ll do this. His prescription of more tax cuts for the wealthy are exactly what got us into this economic and fiscal mess in the first place.
You don’t hear Mr. Romney address the minimum wage. It has been losing value for decades; if we wanted to have the same minimum wage that the prospering country had in 1968, we’d have to raise it to $10.55 per hour to cover for inflation.
You may remember that President Obama got into a similar mess four years ago when a leaked tape of a speech he made at a private fundraiser came out. He also cast some voters in broad inappropriate stereotypes, suggesting that they cling to guns, religion and xenophobia to deal with the economic stresses in their lives.
But while both men made what Romney himself now calls ‘inelegant’ remarks, there is a key difference. Mr. Romney says of those 47 percent of Americans “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.”
Mr. Obama on the other hand, while he also stereotyped voters, said of them, “Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s no evidence of that in their daily lives”.
In other words, both candidate made broad assumptions about voting blocs, but Mr. Obama believes he should work hard to find other ways to help them economically and persuade them he is on their side. Mr. Romney simply writes them off.
And that, in short is why the president is leading this election.
Michael Carley is a resident of Porterville. He can be reached at email@example.com.