Mitt Romney’s latest campaign setback is a leaked video that shows him slagging the 47 percent of the population who, he says, will always vote for Barack Obama, because they want everything for free from the government.
The 47 percent number presumably refers to the percent of the population who don’t pay Federal Income Taxes, which of course is just one kind of tax.
From the Tax Policy Center, these three pie charts show who those people are.
But back to the 47 percent. There are two primary ways to pay no (or negative) federal income taxes. The first is to be poor, and the second is to be elderly. In 2011, of the 18.1 percent of American households who paid no federal tax (meaning, no federal income or payroll tax), more than half were elderly, and most of the other half were non-elderly people making below $20,000 a year. The other sliver, roughly one in 20 non-payers, were people who made more than $20,000 in household income.
The reason being poor helps is because, with a combination of tax credits (like the earned income credit and the child credit) and deductions, many people earning under $20,000 a year can zero out their overall rate. The primary reason being elderly helps is that Social Security benefits aren’t taxed as income, so if all (or most) of your income comes from your monthly Social Security check, your taxable income is marginal or non-existent.
So there you have it. The poor and elderly.
Meanwhile, Jim Antle at the conservative site The Daily Caller makes another salient point: The elimination of taxes on the very poor has been GOP policy starting with Reagan, and continuing through Bush:
When Ronald Reagan signed into law the Tax Reform Act of 1986, he boasted, “Millions of the working poor will be dropped from the tax rolls altogether, and families will get a long-overdue break with lower rates and an almost doubled personal exemption.”
Both the initial Reagan tax cuts of 1981 and indexing income taxes to inflation in 1985 had a similar effect.
In the 1990s, the Republican-controlled Gingrich Congress passed a $500 per child tax credit that also wiped out the income tax liability of many low- to moderate-income households.
“Fully 93 percent of the tax relief in our bill goes to taxpayers with annual incomes under $100,000, 76 percent goes to taxpayers with incomes under $75,000,” then-House Ways and Means Committe Chairman Bill Archer, a Texas Republican, said at the time. “If ever there was a tax plan for America’s forgotten middle class, this is it.”