Is the US a 50/50 Nation of Makers, Takers?

A hidden video of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaking to wealthy donors shows the candidate claiming that the nation is divided between givers and takers. Half the nation not paying taxes while the other half are; half the nation taking government benefits with the other half paying those benefits. Analysis of the data shows this to be a gross oversimplification.

In the video Romney can be heard saying, "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what ... 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's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them."

While it is true that about 47 percent of U.S. households did not pay any federal income tax last year (higher than usual because of the recession), it is not true that those households comprise all of Obama's supporters and would not vote for Romney. Additionally, the reasons that there are so many households that do not pay any federal income tax has much to do with Republican policies.

As The Washington Post reported, using data from the Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institution, 60 percent of those who pay no federal income tax do pay payroll taxes, which means they have a job and contribute to federal revenue in other ways. And 22 percent of those who pay no federal income tax are senior citizens who have retired.

Most of the payments from the government to individuals, those who are "dependent on government" in Romney's words, go to senior citizens in the form of Social Security and Medicare. While Romney's comments imagines the government transferring wealth from the rich to the poor, with the poor then becoming dependent on government; if anything, the transfer of wealth is mostly going from the young to the old, as economist Veronique de Rugy pointed out for Reason. (It should be noted that this is partly by design. These programs were intended to behave like a social contract in which Americans pay into the system for the current retirees while they work and they take out of the system when they retire.)

Plus, according to Gallup, a majority senior citizens will likely vote for Romney. Those aged 80 to 95 support Romney over Obama 49 to 45 percent; 70- to 79-year-olds prefer Romney 53 to 41 percent; and, those 60 to 69 are about evenly split with 49 percent supporting Romney and 47 percent supporting Obama.

Gallup polls also show that the nation is not simply split along class lines with those making below the median income supporting Obama and those above the median income supporting Romney. Obama does get a majority of those in the lower income brackets and Romney does well among the upper income, but Romney still gets the support of one out of three households that make less than $24,000 per year and 43 percent of those who make more than $180,000 say they will vote for Obama.

Additionally, the number of households that pay no income tax has risen dramatically over the last 40 years because of the tax cuts passed under Ronald Reagan, the tax cuts passed under George W. Bush, the child tax credit and the exemption for Social Security benefits. In other words, the reason so few pay income taxes has mostly to do with Republican-led policies.

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