Making Sense of Tax Burdens

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Most everyone knows by now that Governor Romney’s point about the 47 percent is incredibly misleading (it’s actually just over 46 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center). Romney is absolutely right when he says that a little less than half of Americans don’t pay federal taxes. However that doesn’t mean that they’re all on welfare or dependent solely on government support.

The percentage of people not actually paying into the federal coffers includes seniors on social security and the working poor (which in itself is a poor term for the self-employed and small business owners who are making a living, but with deductions for all the other things they pay don’t have enough left over to pay the feds). Those working people do pay other taxes including state and local income tax, sales tax, property tax, Medicare and social security and payroll taxes, which for a self-employed person can amount to nearly 15 percent.

According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center about half of people who don’t owe income tax are off the rolls not because they take advantage of tax breaks but rather because they have low incomes. Of the rest in that group, 75 percent pay no income tax because of provisions that benefit senior citizens and low-income working families with children.

The 46 percent breaks down like this (62 percent of these non paying Americans make less that $20,000 a year):

23 percent for low income. There’s no income tax if your income falls below a certain threshold. For a family of four, that threshold was $26,400 last year.

Ten percent for seniors/social security

Seven percent for working poor and children: These include the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and the child care tax credit. Because of these special benefits, a family of four (two parents, two children) earning up to $45,775 last year would not have had to pay income taxes, primarily because of special credits for children.

Six percent This includes itemized deductions, tax credits for education and the income tax exemptions for everything from disability payments to interest on municipal bonds.

The presidential candidate made another statement that has raised the hackles of some voters: “Forty-seven percent of the country,” he said, “are people who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” It’s highly unlikely that half of America possess an entitlement attitude.

To imply that most of those who don’t pay income taxes are getting away with something, raises questions. “Put bluntly,” Economix writes, “these are not households shirking their tax liabilities. The pool consists mostly of the poor, of relatively low-income working families and of old people. The tax code is specifically designed to reduce the burden on them.”

Still in 1960, government transfers to individuals totaled $24 billion. By 2010, that total was 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years. This spending surge has increased under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

And yet America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about any other nationality. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.

One of the issues that drives some people crazy is how many Americans are actually on welfare. If you use those who are supported by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)–best described as a federal largess to indigent families with dependent children–as stated by the Department of Health the data suggests 1.7 percent of the total population that derive over 50 percent of their income from welfare supports. Those receiving any portion of their support from welfare assistance–including food stamps–is 29.9 million or roughly eight percent of the total population in the United States.

While these numbers are much higher than we’d like to see them, it’s the unemployed, who would be included in the 46 percent, that should cause the biggest concern. Currently approximately 12.5 million Americans able to work are on unemployment. The unemployment rate edged down in August to 8.1 percent. In August, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 5.0 million. Add in those workers who can find only part-time work, or the discouraged dropouts no longer counted in the workforce statistics, and the national jobless rate could be about 11 percent.

Among the marginally attached, there were 844,000 discouraged workers in August, a decline of 133,000 from a year earlier. Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.7 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in August had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding a recent survey for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities. These are the people we should be most concerned about.

How many jobs are not being filled? We are now adding jobs at a fair clip, with an average of 148,600 more jobs total added per month since December 2010, and an average of 166,000 more jobs added per month in the private sector since December 2010.

Across the country there are about 3.2 million job openings in the private sector.

With so many jobs available, why do we still have such high unemployment? Many of the jobs may require skills that the unemployed don’t have, the jobs may be located in places the unemployed do not live, may not pay enough to attract workers, may be offered without benefits, may be short-term or offer undesirable career moves.

Not withstanding there’s a lot of misinformation about who gets what and who pays what and how much the rich should pay compared to the poor. As the presidential election comes to a head we might want to ask ourselves is the country going in the right direction or do we need a change in leadership? Regardless of your point of view, please be sure to vote, the ballots will be mailed on October 19.  pha

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