The Real 47%

When the video emerged showing Mitt Romney claiming 47% of the United States Population pays no taxes, his opposition caused a fire storm of sound bites and talking heads. However, Romney was accurate. There are 314.4 million people in the nation, 46.8% of them pay no taxes, according the the government’s own statistical analysis.

It is necessary, however, to look deeper into the abyss that is cloudy statistical information. In many ways, it all depends upon who is doing the counting, therefore, this article depends upon easily accessed information. Take time to review all of the information, not just the portion supporting your point of view.

If you think about it, you can easily come up with your own rationalization for Romney’s  assertion. After all, there are nearly 62 million Americans who receive Social Security checks every month. Add to that, about 9 million children and adults under age 65 who receive Supplemental Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), and Social Security alone quickly includes one-third of the U.S. population. If SS is their only income, of course they pay no income taxes.

Carrying the statistics a step further, nearly 30 million people are on some sort of federally supported welfare. this brings the total no-tax population to more than 100 million, and all of those folks are clearly dependent upon some kind of public support. Keep in mind, young children do not pay taxes, and must be added into the total.

However, all of these statistics do not tell the tale–perception is the real story.

Use the search term, “Perceptions of Welfare”, and you will find plenty of university research articles about the perceptions Americans have of welfare recipients. Recently, though, these perceptions, generated likely by massive federal deficit fears, have changed. Recipients are pictured as lazy folks on the public dole through fraudulent means, or are illegally in the U.S. Although true, that is not necessarily the case. To be sure, there is plenty of fraud to go around–Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid–and plenty of just plain incompetence on the part of public employees failing to screen potential recipients adequately. All of this fuels public distaste to provide support of those over 65, those injured, or to folks unable to work because of physical difficulties. “Fraud in the two main federal health programs is huge, imposing costs on taxpayers at least in the tens of billions of dollars each year.” [ ]

In fairness to departmental workers, computerization is a major difficulty. Applications for assistance have been reduced to a series of check boxes that cannot precisely describe why an individual needs assistance. This is true, for example, of cancer survivors left with serious residual effects of poisonous chemotherapy drugs. Many, particularly breast cancer survivors, are left with ailments causing severe pain further complicated by pain medications resulting in an inability to pass a simple employment drug test.

So, in my view, the real effort needs to be in better screening of assistance recipients to eliminate fraud, coupled with a complete overhaul of how we handle distribution of public funds. Such an effort can be beneficial throughout our many federal program of hand-outs. The bureaucracy has a tendency to support its own employment rolls and payroll increases, rather than concentrate on real needs assessments of Americans.

Americans have always been charitable and caring. Introducing large, Federal bureaucratic agencies expanding their own departmental importance, is a proven failure in an attempt to give those in need a hand up. “Charity begins at home.” So, would it not be better for states to withhold their own money from the federal government, providing necessary state assistance from local folks who better know the needs of their own citizens?

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