By now everybody knows what Republican candidate Mitt Romney said about 47% of Americans. It goes something like this. People will vote for President Obama because they are dependent on government and believe they are victims. These 47% pay no income tax and think the government must take care of them. They believe they’re entitled to health care, food, and housing. Mr. Romney said, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” When the secret videotape was revealed, Romney did not apologize. Now, weeks later, he has. The original remarks must reflect his feelings and those of the people in the audience, right? No one objected at the time.
I’ve been trying to figure out exactly whom he was talking about, reflecting on the people I know who fit into that 47%. Many of my students at Cleveland State University, for example, work at low-wage jobs and rely on student loans to help pay for their education. For these two reasons, then, they may not pay any income tax.
They work, often full time, at restaurants, nursing homes, and other businesses. A great many of them are also raising families while they attend college full-time. They pay payroll taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes, but, at this stage of their lives, no income taxes.
I wish I could introduce Mr. Romney to these young Americans. I’ve had students who come directly to an 8:30 am class from their night-shift jobs, who contact me from the hospital in order to keep up with their work, and who return to class after a death in the family, determined to finish the semester. These students do not believe they are victims, and they do not feel entitled. Interestingly, Mr. Romney didn’t even get their political persuasion right. I think many of these students will vote for Mitt Romney.
A second category of people among the 47% are the elderly. I have two older friends, for example, who probably no longer pay income tax. They now collect Social Security and benefit from Medicare. Both women worked outside the home throughout their marriages, as did their hard-working husbands. They maintained a middle-class lifestyle and sacrificed to send their kids to college. They continue to pay sales taxes and other taxes.
They, too, are not victims and have never behaved in an “entitled” way. These two particular friends are in the 47% who will vote for President Obama, but clearly not for the reasons Mr. Romney thinks. Of course, other elderly people on Social Security and Medicare, including some of my relatives, will be voting for Mr. Romney. The 47% is, in other words, a garbled mess.
The last category I’ve been thinking about are my GED students at the Thea Bowman Center in Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, where I volunteer as a tutor. Like my CSU students, some of them are working and also raising a family. Some of them have learning disabilities. Most of them have had to contend with other problems–violence, drug addiction, broken schools–that I can barely imagine.
They made a mistake and dropped out of high school. Now they are trying to rectify that mistake. They want to help their kids with their homework and get better jobs. They pay payroll taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes, but not, at this stage of their lives, income taxes. Most of them, as far as I can tell, are planning to vote. Most of them, I imagine, are voting for President Obama.
Many of them receive government aid, but if they feel “entitled” and if they feel like “victims,” why are they attending GED classes four days a week in order to re-learn the branches of government and division of fractions? I would like to ask Mitt Romney, in what way are these dedicated GED students, college students, and elderly people not taking responsibility for their lives? Did he really expect his listeners to believe that nearly half of all Americans, the half who will vote for President Obama, are slackers and moochers?
My husband and I belong to the 47% who are voting for President Obama. Like many of our like-minded friends and family, we are not in that entitled and irresponsible half who pay no income tax. Though our income is a tiny fraction of Mitt Romney’s, we pay an annual income tax at about the same rate.
What about you? Which 47% (out of many) are you in?