A Look at New York City’s 47 Percent

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

(Romney speaks to the press in Costa Mesa, California on Sept. 19, 2012, about comments he made in a secretly-recorded video./Getty)

Alex Kutler is a 20-year-old political science major at Columbia University. He had a job through high school and works 10 to 15 hours a week on campus. He's used to having payroll taxes taken out of every check and getting a refund from the government every spring.

In other words, he's part of the 47 percent of Americans that Mitt Romney criticized for not paying income taxes in a closed-door fundraiser earlier this year.

The remarks, captured on video, caught fire when the tape of the event was leaked online this week. The Romney campaign has been scrambling to recover ever since.

"Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect," Romney says in the video, adding, “And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

More than half of the 47 percent who don’t owe anything on their annual tax return have payroll taxes taken out of their paychecks year-round. The rest of the non-payers are elderly retirees, many on Social Security, and people who don't make enough money to be taxed.

Social Security recipients and students make up just over 15 percent of the city's voting-age population. Another 15 to 20 percent of the city's 18 to 64 year-olds are below the federal poverty level, and wind up owing little to nothing or getting refunds on their federal returns thanks to tax credits.

Taken together, the "47 percent" is more like the 30-something percent in New York City.

Kutler is one of almost half a million college students (with or without jobs) in New York City. Romney’s charge rubbed Kutler the wrong way.

"It's not true," Kutler said. "I had a job all through high school and I paid taxes. With the amount of money I was making it just seemed kind of ridiculous to have to take out the amount I was taking out. I don't think everyone should be expected to make the same contribution -- millionaires and students in high school or college."

Another 400,000 people in New York City receive Social Security benefits.

One of them is Pete Markle, a retired teacher living in the Williams Memorial Residence on the Upper West Side, in a zip code with the No. 12 highest number of Social Security recipients in the nation. Markle, 80, said he paid into the program starting in 1946, when he worked at a hotel in Texas.

"I did take care of myself, luckily, and I’m happy to be supported on what I thought was my contribution to the social good," Markle said. "There has to be something about a society where there is social good and one of it is taking care of old folks."

He added, "I paid my way all the time, all the way," Markle said. "You take that away from me, I hope I can boot Romney out of there with my vote."


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Comments [5]


At least poor people have a legitimate reason to feel like "victims". I'm so sick of hearing the constant whining from rich people who think they are victims of ... something.

Sep. 20 2012 02:39 PM

@ Michael Poreda -- When the hell did this become non-news? I personally find it very interesting to hear how Romney really feels about half the country when he thought only his very wealthy, elite supporters were listening behind closed doors. I'm baffled that someone who wants to be president would disregard millions of Americans with such disdain. And I'm pissed off that thousands of people, including dozens of my friends, have felt they need to come forward and tell their stories to defend themselves and explain their situation for being part of the 47 percenters, regardless of which political party they align with. In additional, a lot of people who are (were?) Romney supporters feel they've been insulted and betrayed by someone they were thinking of voting for and are trying to understand how he could be so callous in labeling them as victims and saying he doesn't care about them... or apparently even really know who his supporters are. I think this video is very revealing and important in regard to what type of president we want in this country, representing all of us and who is suppose to be keeping our collective best interests in mind. So in what way is this non-news?

Sep. 20 2012 12:08 PM
Andy NYC

I have a quick question in how the 47% is calculated. If you had 10,000 withheld from your pay over the year and then get a 2,000 refund; are you paying no taxes or 8,000?

Sep. 20 2012 10:23 AM

Michael i agree. Romney always puts his foot in his mouth... just less so than when he was vying with McCain for the Republican candidacy. In essence though - what Romney really was trying to say makes perfect sense. Republicans are going to vote for him... Democrats will vote for Obama... so the race is for the Independents.
Unfortunately - sensationalism is what matters in the media.

Sep. 20 2012 10:12 AM
Michael Poreda from New Jeresy

This was an interesting story for about 3 seconds. I am an avid Obama supporter, but seriously, you need to drop this non-story already. Romney put his foot in his mouth. He does it all the time. Move on to the real news, or you will convince me that there really is a liberal media conspiracy.

Sep. 20 2012 08:34 AM

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