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I had an interesting conversation with my father-in-law last night.  The conversation went very well, but I need your help to finish it.  Before I go on, let me describe the context:

-    He is a retired physician, my mother-in-law a retired (private school) teacher
-    They are affluent by most definitions of that word, but don’t live that way.
-    When I married his daughter nearly 17 years ago, both he and his wife voted Republican
-    The combination of my constant input to the insanity of the GOP’s politics and the witnessing of that insanity has made it so the last two presidential election cycles, they have voted for Obama.
-    Regardless of that, they voted for Proposition 8 in 2008.
-    They don’t understand why we need to reform our immigration laws.
-    He is very much open to influence and persuasion (meaning:  he isn’t an ideologue)
-    We never yell about politics, but we don’t always agree.  They are the kind of conversations you wish you could have with your weird Uncle Joe from Fresno who is a Tea Party and NRA member

So last night was my daughter’s 14th birthday and she wanted to have her grandparents over for dinner (they’re very close).  As normal, I’m sitting next to my father-in-law.  Near the end of the meal, we start talking about the stock market (I work as an investment advisor for a Wall Street firm…this topic ALWAYS comes up), the fiscal cliff, etc, and as you might assume, the discussion quickly moves into politics.  

He brings up the subject of the 47% who never pay taxes.  I asked him if he really believes 47% of Americans don’t pay any taxes.  He thought about it for a moment and said, “I guess I hadn’t thought about it thoroughly.”  I told him that there is a bit of truth to that statement, but primarily it’s a pejorative declaration meant to make nearly half the citizens of this country seem like lazy moochers.  In other words, it’s a statement meant to bring out fear and hate.  He considered what I said when I added that there are “income” taxes that some people don’t pay, but there is also “payroll, state, local & sales taxes” that we all pay.  He called the moochers, the “leeches.”   I asked him if his mother was a leech, because she didn’t pay any income taxes.  He paused, mentioned both his mother and his mother-in-law (both deceased now) and said “No, they didn’t pay income taxes.”  He did not consider them leeches.   I told him that many people living off of Social Security don’t pay income taxes.  He retorted that yes they do because HE does.  I told him that he pays some taxes on his social security income because he augments that with money coming out of his retirement plans.  “Imagine you only have Social Security. Your income is so low, you pay no income taxes.  Most people in the US live that way.”  He nodded his head.

I segued into living wages.  Of that 47%, there are a significant number of them who have jobs (and families!) presently.  They are not living off the social welfare programs.  I mentioned that if you are married and earning $15,000 or less, you don’t pay income taxes (I believe the real number is $17,400).  Again, he hadn’t considered that.  His thought was that you had to be living off of welfare to not pay taxes.  His comment back to me made me smile (if not caught me a little off guard), “Yes,” he said, “working people deserve a living wage.”  Already I could see that he was melting from his position that many Americans don’t deserve the wrath of the Right for their lot in life.  

But then he came back to “the leeches” and described how when he was a new doctor practicing in Ohio (we all live in California now), there were so many patients who came in for care that didn’t have work and claimed they didn’t even want to look for it.  They were the leeches he was referring to.  I brought up Clinton’s Welfare to Work program that has been successful in transitioning many people out of that situation, and again, he hadn’t put that into the equation.  His thinking was from the 70’s.  Then he asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to and really don’t know how to find it.  Perhaps you can help:  He asked, “Of the 47%, how many are those folks who are truly living off the government [in terms of being on perpetual welfare]?”  

So that is my question to you…to anybody who may know the answer and be able to help me finish this conversation.  Do you know how many of the 47% are actual perpetual welfare recipients?  Where might I find resources to back this up?  I’d love to find the actual percentage (or a chart) that highlights this information.

Thank you dear DKos community.  And Happy New Year!

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's nice to have a sane conversation... (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, Ckntfld, a2nite, CwV, Gorette, chimene

    about politics!  And again, thanks to anybody who can help with this information.  I continue to look around the internet with limited to no meaningful success.

  •  4.1% of Americans are on welfare (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BayAreaKen, Catte Nappe, Ckntfld, Gorette

    according to this site:  http://www.statisticbrain.com/...

    •  It's funny you should bring this up, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BayAreaKen, Ckntfld, chimene

      because I just wrote a letter to our local newspaper in response to a diatribe by another letter writer about how 47% of the populace doesn't pay taxes and 40% of the taxes are paid by the one percent. Since I keep hearing this argument, I decided to say something.   It's not exactly the answer to your question but Zygoat above answers that one. It seems to me, however, to be an appropriate and logical response to this argument, which is now becoming conventional wisdom.  

      Here is my letter, with a citation:  

      In his letter in the Reader’s Forum of December 31st.  (NAME DELETED) is quite agitated over “the fairness question,” regarding who should be responsible for paying down our national debt, which was caused by Republicans not paying for two wars and a major health care initiative (in the 8 years they held office after Clinton left a huge surplus), not to mention corrupt bankers who, with all those nasty regulations obliterated by Republican rule, gambled with the world’s money and brought about this fiscal calamity.

      In Mr. Wilson’s view, however, our debt burden is largely the responsibility of the poor and the middle classes and they need to shoulder way more of the costs by having their “entitlements” cut.  In his words, “The real fairness question is, why should 47 percent pay no federal tax and the top 1 percent pay 40 percent of taxes?” The fact is that those in the lowest income level, average $18,400/year in 2007, still pay around 4% of their incomes in Federal taxes to fund the entitlements they receive. However, I have an idea that should fix even the perception of gross unfairness. Let everyone in the top one percent trade places with those in the bottom 47 percent.   I’m sure people who don’t make enough money to pay income taxes would be more than happy to become multimillionaires and the wealthy can have all the advantages that now accrue to the poor.

  •  That's a great site! (0+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

  •  Nobody is a perpetual recipient anymore (6+ / 0-)

    Welfare reform imposed a maximum 60 month lifetime limit on receiving TANF, which is the major welfare program nationally. Few state or county programs are even that "generous". You could, of course, count SNAP (food stamps) or subsidized housing as "welfare", but most on those programs are the working poor - allowing you to refer back to the concept of a living wage.

    "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

    by Catte Nappe on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 10:57:52 AM PST

  •  Bush cut taxes to help poor families, according (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BayAreaKen

    to this Business Week article I found.

    Bush Tax Cut

    In 2001, Bush promoted his tax cut to the public in part because it would prevent some people from paying taxes.

    “People with the smallest incomes will get the highest percentage of reductions,” Bush said in his first speech to Congress on Feb. 27, 2001. “And millions of additional American families will be removed from the income tax rolls entirely.”

    By doubling the child tax credit, creating a 10 percent tax bracket and eliminating capital gains taxes for middle-income earners, Bush did exactly that. He also backed the expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs.

    Non-payers still pay state and local taxes, including sales taxes, as well as federal payroll taxes, which fund Medicare and Social Security.

    “Half of them are people that are just plain old poor,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan group in Washington. “And the other half are people that aren’t very far out of that poor category, but get some tax breaks.”

    "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

    by Gorette on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 12:54:58 PM PST

  •  Interesting that good Democratic states like (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BayAreaKen

    these have fewer people paying no taxes:

    According to the Tax Foundation, states with the highest concentrations of non-payers are Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas. The lowest concentrations are in Alaska, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
    You could ask your dad-in-law which states have fewer people who pay no taxes. I wonder what his guess would be, but probably not two New England states. Makes sense the most people paying none would be poor states like those mentioned above. And I imagine since Alaskan citizens receive oil revenues they are flush enough to pay income taxes?

    Anyhow, good for you for converting your in-laws! Good job!

    "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

    by Gorette on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 12:58:23 PM PST

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