Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two (small) points I haven't seen elsewhere about the 47% comment

Update, September 19: This Harvard Business Review Blog post has an interesting take on the context of Romney's 47% comment.

There's been a lot of discussion today about Mitt Romney's comment, reported yesterday, that the 47% of Americans pay no income tax. You can watch the video here.

This sounded as if something ghad been distorted, and I took a look at the original report from the Tax Policy Center, available here. And Roberton Williams, the person who wrote the report, has this to say today:
In 2011, 46 percent of tax units paid no federal income tax. Half of them had no taxable income—the standard deduction and personal exemptions exceed their income.  The other half get enough tax breaks to wipe out their basic tax liability.
One of the points various commentators are making is that many of those non-payers? They live in the South, in states that generally vote Republican. That's the map you can see above. A second point is that even though these households pay no income tax, many of them pay other taxes, including Social Security, Medicare, and state and local taxes. (And sales tax.)

I have two admittedly wonky points I want to add. First, the Tax Policy Center analyzed returns. That means returns of people who worked, earned money, had it withheld from their checks, and filed tax returns. That means that at least some of the people Romney is referring to are working. (Some are elderly.) Second, returns reflect households (the Tax Policy Center calls them "tax units"), not voters. Taxpayers vote, and voters pay taxes, but there's nothing to suggest that the 47% the Tax Policy Center identified as not owing any federal income tax are linked in any particular way to voters.
 Here's the Romney response from late last night:

And you can find more background here - it's an interesting column about the decision to use the 47% trope in the campaign.

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