Mitt Romney's 47 Percent: Who Does Not Pay Income Taxes?

Romney claims 47 percent of voters are too dependent on government to pick him.

September 18, 2012, 2:38 PM

Sept. 18, 2012 -- Mitt Romney gave up on winning support from nearly half of the American electorate in May, telling wealthy supporters at a private fundraiser that he could not hope to win the votes of the 47 percent of Americans who, he said, do not pay federal income taxes.

The comment was part of a 30-minute speech riddled with controversial statements which was secretly videotaped and posted online this week. In it, Romney characterized that group of income-tax-free Americans as being "dependent on the government" and feeling "entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."

So who are these 47 percent of Americans that Romney is not going to "worry" about winning over?

In 2011 those 76 million people, about 46 percent of the people who filed taxes, did not pay a penny in income taxes, according to an analysis of IRS data by the bipartisan Tax Policy Center. But that does not mean nearly half of America skirted their federal tax burden.

Nearly two-thirds of the households that did not pay income tax in 2011 were on the hook for payroll taxes, a 4.2 percent tax that is automatically deducted from workers' paychecks to fund Social Security and Medicare.

Only 18 percent of tax filers did not have to pay either income tax or payroll taxes.

Nearly all of the people who did not pay either type of tax were elderly – 10.3 percent of total tax filers - or had incomes less than $20,000 – 6.9 percent.

But it's not just low-income people who get out of paying income taxes. About 1 percent of the top 1 percent of income earners, those making about $533,000 or more, did not pay income taxes. That's roughly 13,000 tax filers.

And 4,000 millionaires are also escaping that burden, according to a Tax Policy Center analysis.

The majority of people who pay zero income tax, though, are low-income families. Last year 99 percent of people earning less than $10,000 per year paid no income tax. Roughly 78 percent of the households that did not pay income tax were below the poverty line.

Many of these low-income earners may not even realize they do not pay income tax. According to an April Gallup poll, 50 percent of people who earn less than $30,000 per year said the amount they pay in income taxes is too high. More than 80 percent of those people do not pay a dime of income tax.

They are on the hook, though, for a host of other taxes such as sales taxes, property taxes, state income taxes and excise taxes on items like alcohol, gasoline and cigarettes.

Besides these income-tax-free voters, Romney also conceded to Obama voters who are "dependent on the government" for things like health care, food and housing.

About 38 percent of Americans rely on the government for their health care, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Whether they are low-income and get their care through Medicaid (54 million people), are elderly and receive insurance through Medicare (46 million people), are low-income children and are covered under the Children's Health Insurance Program (5.5 million kids), or are current or former members of the military and receive health care through the Departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs (12.5 million people), more than 109 million Americans get their health insurance through government programs.

A much smaller fraction of the population looks to the government for food or housing.

Less than 15 percent of Americans – about 46 million - were on food stamps as of June 2012, the most recent month data is available from the Department of Agriculture. Food stamp recipients have been on the rise, though, with 13 million more people buying their food on the government's dime in 2012 than did in 2009.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 4 percent of U.S. households rely on the government to help pay their rent, 54 percent of which are elderly or disabled. The median income of the 4.5 million families whose housing is either subsidized or paid for by the federal government is $10,440, about one-fifth the average household income.

While the Obama campaign swiftly criticized Romney for "writing off half the nation," his assertion that people on government programs will likely vote for Obama is at least somewhat substantiated by the 2008 election exit polls.

Low-income voters, whose incomes are too low to pay income tax and who are most likely to qualify for rental assistance, food stamps and Medicaid, overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008. The president won 60 percent of voters with incomes between $30,000 and $15,000 while Republican nominee John McCain captured 37 percent of those voters.

Three out of four people who earned less than $15,000 picked Obama, according to exit polls.