Mitt Romney’s statement that 47% of Americans pay no income tax is either true or false depending upon what one takes it to mean. It is a fact that in a given year, around 47% of Americans won’t pay income tax. It is also a fact that virtually all of this same 47% have and/or will pay income taxes at some point again. To suggest or misunderstand that almost half of Americans never pay income taxes is patently false information. It is also false to suggest that members of this 47% are irresponsible, feel entitled to government funds, or are all supporters of President Obama. As has often been the case for Mitt Romney, the facts are not on his side. His remarks further show how far out of touch he is with the average American.
From the time I was 18 years old until I turned 27, I was dependent upon government money. I was a soldier in the U.S. Army. I paid income tax every year, except for the 28 months I spent in Kuwait and Iraq. From the ages of 28 to 30, I was again dependent upon government money as a military contractor for the U.S. Army in Kuwait. My income there was tax exempt as well. For the last two years I have been dependent upon government money again in the form of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, an income tax exempt veteran’s benefit. As a full-time student on the G.I. Bill, I likely won’t pay any income taxes for 2012. Of my 13 years of adult life, I spent nine of them in uniform for America, almost five of them in a combat zone, and all of them taking responsibility for my life and actions. I’m no victim.
This, paired with the fact that I voted for President Obama in 2008 and will vote for him again in 2012, puts me squarely within the 47% of Americans Mitt Romney isn’t ‘worried about’ and who he characterizes as irresponsible victims feeling entitled to government benefits. I have never received a penny in taxpayer dollars from the U.S. government that I have not already worked for. If the military paid soldiers on an hourly basis rather than salaries, they would still owe service members a great deal of money. That soldiers’ income earned in combat zones and G.I. Bill benefits are not taxed doesn’t make up the difference. These benefits are payment in kind for services already rendered. We are not ‘entitled’; we are owed.
There are many categories of Americans, other than the troops, who at times don’t pay income tax. Students, seniors, and the working poor whose earned income after deductions is under $10,000 dollars won’t pay income taxes. Virtually every American will fall into one of these categories at one point in their lives. Mitt Romney himself has likely fallen into these categories. But almost all of these folks have paid income tax for decades or will pay for decades in the future.
The number of Americans who have and will never pay income tax is very small. It should be remembered that those claiming unemployment benefits pay taxes from their earned income to receive that benefit when they’re out of work. Everyone does. Most average Americans will be out of work at some point in their lives. Almost half of those who don’t pay income tax do so because they simply didn’t make enough income. For Mitt Romney to put soldiers, seniors, students, and the working poor into the category of people he isn’t worried about means he isn’t worried about the majority of Americans.
For Romney to portray these Americans as self-imposed victims not taking responsibility for their lives and dependent upon handouts is downright insulting. If paying taxes is a sign of taking responsibility, then asking corporations and the wealthy to be more responsible by paying their fair share shouldn’t be an issue. To prove he is responsible, perhaps Romney should show his own income tax statements.
Romney’s comments are false for another reason. He claims the 47% of Americans who don’t pay income taxes are supporters of President Obama. In fact, the top 10 states with the highest percentage of non-income tax filers are all ‘red states’ that Romney counts squarely in his column. It would seem the majority of non-filers support him, though he claims not be worried about them. Another look also shows that these same red states likely to support Mitt Romney are net receivers of taxpayer dollars, whereas the majority of blue states likely to support President Obama pay more in taxes than they receive. The truth is that the majority of these Americans Mitt Romney calls irresponsible victims and has written off as Obama voters are likely to be his supporters.
The facts are not on Romney’s side and he appears to be even further out of touch with the lives of average Americans than previously thought. That he rails against the 47% of Americans not paying income taxes is also irresponsible considering he is the first presidential candidate in modern history not to release his own income tax statements, a practice his father, George Romney, pioneered as a candidate and has been followed by virtually every candidate for state or federal office since. It is also hypocritical since he required all of his prospective vice-presidential running-mates to show 10years of tax returns as part of the vetting process.
Many have called these videotaped statements a ‘gaffe’ on Romney’s part. A gaffe implies there was a mistake made. Getting the capital of Iowa wrong or calling someone the wrong name is a gaffe. Gaffe is not the proper term to use when one is making a factual statement of their beliefs. That Romney didn’t know he was being videotaped is unfair and perhaps unethical, but the unedited comments show that he was stating what he actually thinks of a majority of Americans.
The majority of Americans should keep this in mind when they go the polls this November.