The numbers behind Mitt Romney's 47% comment

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 33rd annual national convention on September 17, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Mitt Romney is standing by his words from a private fundraiser that were caught on videotape. In the video, which was obtained by the liberal magazine Mother Jones, Romney says 47 percent of the country pay no income tax and are therefore predisposed to vote for President Obama.

How accurate is this number -- 47 percent -- that Romney cited?

"Roughly half of Americans pay no income tax," says Roberton Williams, senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center in Washington. That's down slightly from a few years ago, and some estimate it will fall below 40 percent by the end of the decade.

Of those people not paying income tax, about half of them are people with no taxable income -- low-income elderly and low-income working families.

But the other half, Williams says, are people who benefit from tax preferences, like the child credit or the earned income tax credit.

The idea that they are paying no taxes whatsoever is somewhat misleading, though. According to Williams, about two-thirds payroll taxes (because they work), while most of them will also pay state income taxes or sales taxes.

"We all benefit from the tax preferences in the system," Williams says, "and the people who benefit most are the wealthiest Americans. Mitt Romney himself benefitted hugely from the 15 percent preferential rate on capital gains."


About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.
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Except... that's not what he said. I'd really like if NPR and Marketplace would be more accurate in their reporting.

Romney did NOT say "47 percent of the country pay no income tax and are therefore predisposed to vote for President Obama." What he said was that 47% pay no income tax and are therefore unlikely to be swayed by campaign promises of tax cuts.

The misunderstanding comes from a widespread mashing up of two separate paragraphs with different contexts.

One of my great frustrations in 27 years working for the Internal Revenue Service was the number of people making six figures who paid no income tax. Sometimes they did it legally, sometimes illegally, but the agency lacked the resources and inclination to go after them. Right now, and for the past five years or so, IRS has been trying to collect only what is really easy to collect, with very few difficult cases even attempted.

Wait, so the child credit or the earned income tax credit were invented by Obama to ensure the loyalty of the masses to him? Funny, because they were enacted by Republicans and extended under Obama. Seems to me that the Republicans lowered taxes so that lower-income families didn't have to pay taxes and then scream that lower-income families don't have to pay taxes. Does this make sense?

Who was screaming? He was at a private event talking about the voters he intended to target for his campaign and why.

You're right, Romney wasn't "screaming." However, I've heard the same line of argument from other Republicans . . . and they have screamed.

The issue I've heard the GOP complain about is Obama wanting the half that is paying federal income taxes to pay more .

I am not a wealthy person but I used to pay 20% higher taxes. Then I got married, had children, bought a house, and have student loans. I think it's unfair that I get all those write offs whereas if I were single, renting, and never went to school I'd have no write offs. This minimizes peoples opportunties to move up. It is SAD that the uber wealthy get to take advantage of all the benefits I see plus more and the uber poor or middle class don't see the benefits with as much ease. We are moving back to the days of peasantry and kings/queens with their royal friends. Whack stuff that the United States is moving back to a state of which the pilgrims escaped, so sad too bad.

"The idea that they are paying no taxes whatsoever is somewhat misleading" - Romney never said they pay no tax, just income tax.

"Roughly half of Americans pay no income tax," says Roberton Williams - Romney was right.

In the context of targeting voters, which is what Romney was talking about, there is nothing wrong with what Romney said. Occupy Wall Street and the rest of the left have been calling for more taxes on the wealthy to pay for more government services. There is a large group of Americans who's vote have been bought and paid for with the promise of taking money from one group and giving it to them in the form of entitlements. Romney's message that we need to address a 16 trillion dollar deficit will never resonate with them because they think it's someone else's responsibility to pay it back. How will a message of lowering income taxes work with people that don't pay any? This is a non-story that the liberal media will spin into a Watergate if they can.

As a single white female, I would like the wealthy to pay a minimum of the same percentage of income tax as I have to pay. Many of the wealthy can afford to pay much more by percentage than I do and still be able to buy luxury items while I am counting pennies at the gas pump. And yes, the disadvantaged still pay taxes on the goods and services they buy. Necessities not luxuries.


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