CNN ran an op-ed I co-authored with Rick McGahey, “Americans are Not Moochers.” We dispel Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s claim that 47 percent of Americans expect government programs to provide for their basic needs.
Digging deeper into why 47 percent don't pay federal income tax, what we find are many former taxpayers: twenty-two percent are the elderly, living mostly on Social Security, a benefit they got by working and paying payroll taxes. Others are unemployed or are paid close to the minimum wage, so they don't have enough income to file any taxes.
What is missing from the discussion is the fact that the lack of progressivity in the U.S. tax system. While in theory, higher income individuals pay a higher tax rate, it is the middle class that pays the highest percentage of their income in total taxes due to lower tax for capital gains and larger deductions that reduce taxes for the highest earners.
Romney’s suggestion that older Americans and low-income households feel entitled to government assistance is a theory that does not fit the data. In fact, less than 4% of the U.S. population has received a year’s worth of income-based assistance programs such as food stamps, and more than 50 percent of older people looking for work are too young to receive social security, leaving them close to the poverty line.