I’m on my way to the University of Michigan to participate in a forum on the presidential candidates’ tax plans. I’m thinking about Mitt Romney’s statement that the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income tax are lazy and dependent (and beyond the reach of his campaign). One thought is that if Mitt is really the numbers guy that Bain legend makes him out to be and he really believes that the bottom 47 percent is lost, then he should give up now, since lots people in the top 53 percent are going to vote for Obama. (Look at the polls.) Or maybe he is counting on voter suppression to nullify the 47 percent’s votes.
Mitt and I disagree about whether seniors and low-income working families should pay more tax. (I previously posted a pointed critique of Rick Perry’s assertion of dismay at the 46 percent—the correct statistic—who don’t pay income tax here.)
But what’s really galling is the implication that lower-income Americans just aren’t trying very hard. Yes, theoretically, tax breaks can enable people to slack off, but Americans work really hard—even in difficult, poorly paying jobs. My limo driver, Jeff, works 7 days a week to try to make ends meet. My dad drove a taxi 6 days a week, 11 hours a day, before the advent of refundable tax credits and barely scraped by. I’m certain that the existence of earned income tax credits would not have lessened his effort, although they would have reduced my family’s financial insecurity drastically.
Mitt, talk to the people tending one of your gardens or polishing the silver in one of your houses. The work is hard—really much less rewarding than being a master of the universe (you) or a college professor (me), even before accounting for the discrepancy in pay. I wouldn’t take my dad’s job even if offered 10 times my current salary. I did it for a summer during college. It was exhausting and often demeaning. In my current job, I get treated with respect. Even the occasional limo ride.
Jeff, my driver, used to work in a factory earning much more money, but was injured on the job, which is why he’s now driving back and forth to the airport seven days a week. That’s terrible luck—something with which the governor has little experience, but a common feature among those in that 46 percent. I’m glad a safety net exists to keep Jeff’s bad luck from jettisoning him from the middle class?
Yes, it would be wonderful if working hard were sufficient to guarantee a comfortable middle class existence, but it’s not. Tens of millions work really hard and some of them benefit from tax breaks intended to reward work. That’s a good thing.
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(This rant is from Tuesday, but I've been running around all week so am only just now posting it here. Sorry for the delay.)