Forty-seven percent of Americans don’t pay income tax…

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, 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. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has had a huge barrier in his attempt to relate to everyday Americans during his campaign:  his mouth.  From saying many of his friends are NASCAR owners, to saying that the 14 percent tax rate on his multi-million-dollar salary is “fair,” to expressing his thoughts on the “disconcerting” efforts of the organizers of the London Olympics, Romney has painted a clear picture of himself and his belief system.  (View clips of him as governor of Massachusetts a few year ago, and you might think everything he says now is an exact opposite.)  The epitome of his belief system was captured on an iPhone back in May.  While standing in front of a bunch of rich people— all of which had a $50,000 plate of food at their seats— Romney went “off the cuff” to espouse his belief that 47 percent of Americans are victims who are too dependent on government, and who are not doing their fair share by being exempt from paying federal income taxes.

It’s true.  The basic statement he made about 47 percent of Americans not paying income tax is true.  But, touting this fact is like Fox News touting itself as “the most-watched news channel” in America.  A recent analysis by the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists revealed that 93 percent of global warming news presented on Fox News is inaccurate.  People don’t watch Fox News because of the quality of its news presentation; they watch it for the shock factor.  (See:  Shepard Smith.)  In a similar vein, the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes are not victims, nor are they all going to vote for Barack Obama in November.  In fact, many of the families who don’t pay income taxes are making six-figure salaries; and, even if they do not pay income taxes, they pay multiple other forms of tax.  There’s more to it than just the base statement, and that’s what I’m going to explain in this article.

Forty-seven percent of Americans do not pay income tax, but they sure pay other taxes.  Roughly two-thirds of this group pays Social Security and payroll taxes, which can account for 20 percent of income in many cases.  And, even if some people pay neither income nor payroll taxes, there are still federal taxes on gas, beer, and cigarettes; local sales tax; state sales tax; and property taxes.  If you are paying zero taxes, you are most likely an adolescent or dead.

Many of the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes will never pay income taxes again.  Why?  Because they either make under $20,000 a year, are elderly, or are federally exempt because they serve in the military.  Yep, many of the people who do not pay income tax are either part of the “Greatest Generation” or are currently serving.  They sacrifice more than 99 percent of us, and many of them come home with physical injuries and stress disorders.  They deserve tax relief from the federal government, to say the least.  In his May speech, Romney seemed flabbergasted that people who pay no income tax feel entitled to health care, food, and housing.  Some people who pay no income tax are the very reason we are all able to have the freedom to say stupid things.  Mitt Romney did not specifically target the elderly and the military in his speech; he simply targeted the people who don’t pay income tax.  These two subgroups, however, make up a large part of the 47 percent.  Romney should probably invest in a fact-checker.

So, many of the people who don’t pay income taxes have already spent a lifetime paying taxes or they are sacrificing their freedoms to protect ours.  You know who also doesn’t pay income taxes?  RICH PEOPLE.  That’s right.  Because of bipartisan efforts to create umpteen loopholes in the tax code, thousands of American families making six-plus figures a year pay zero income tax.  From 2009 IRS data, nearly 20,000 households making over $200,000 in income paid zero income tax.  This included six of the richest 400 households, and their incomes were at least $77 million each.

Mitt Romney himself can thank the government for being allowed to pay at a lower tax rate than many people making a tenth of his income.  It’s called the capital gains tax.  If you invest in the stock market, the gains you make after you sell your stocks are taxable income.  If you hold these investments for under a year, they are taxed at the same rate as regular income.  However, if these investments are held for a year and a day, they are considered “long-term,” and they are taxed less.  In the highest tax bracket, long-term capital gains are currently taxed at 15 percent, and Romney revealed he paid 14 percent on his $20+ million earnings from stocks last year.  In other words, much more than 47 percent of the population is reliant on the government for paying fewer taxes.  A tax break for millionaires is fine since they are all so successful, but a tax break on low-income and military families is nothing more than an entitlement?  Characters from Star Trek would have a difficult time finding logic in that one.

And here’s the best part of this kerfuffle:  many households paying zero income tax are still going to vote for Romney!  (At least they were before this speech was leaked to the public.)  Furthermore, many low-income households will simply not vote.  A New York Times poll from Sept. 14 showed that people 65 years and older favored Romney by 15 points.  Census data revealed that fewer than half of households making under $30,000 a year also voted in the presidential election in 2008, and rarely do half of all registered voters actually go out and vote during any election.

I do research so I don’t say stupid things.  Mitt Romney later “clarified” his statement about the 47 percent in May and said they were made “off-the-cuff.”  (What this means is they weren’t vetted or fact-checked; they were said straight from the heart.)  He says he cares at the “100 percent” of America.  At one point last year in an interview, he also said he “lives for laughter.”  Now, this is not an article expressing support for any presidential candidate or political party.  The purpose of this article is to point out a stupid statement.  Forty-seven percent of Americans do not pay income taxes, but they pay a multitude of other taxes.  Many people paying no income tax are either giving their lives to protect the country, or they are living their final years.  Many households in the highest tax bracket pay zero income tax, and many households paying no income tax are not going to vote for incumbent Obama.  If an individual is going to make a base statement about a diverse group of people, he/she should either do some research before speaking, or simply not speak at all.

David Pilley

David Pilley

David Pilley is a May 2010 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a B.A. in communication studies and a creative writing minor. He is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina.

He played clarinet for the Marching Tar Heels in 2005 and 2006. He also volunteered for STV, the student-run television station at UNC-Chapel Hill, in the spring of 2010. He shot video, wrote scripts, and acted for “Off the Cuff,” UNC’s longest running sketch comedy show. He has the rare distinction of having lived in a dorm all four years of his undergraduate college career. He was also on Franklin Street on the night of April 4, 2009. His future plans are to pursue a master’s degree in journalism and to one day work for the media as a sports journalist or broadcaster.

Being one of eight children, David realizes finance is an important topic to everyone, regardless of his/her knowledge of the subject. His interests are in personal finance, budgeting, and savings.

In his spare time, David enjoys watching sports and standup comedy, as well as doing crossword puzzles and writing in the first person. He also thoroughly enjoys trivia and, one day, hopes to participate on the game show Jeopardy!, where he will try to break Ken Jennings’ 74-game win streak.
David Pilley

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