Mitt Romney's 47 percent? Now just 43

The Tax Policy Center, the source of the infamous '47 percent' figure, has said the percentage of households paying no federal income tax has dropped.

Mitt Romney's 47 percent? Now just 43
Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican Presidential nominee, delivers remarks during the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, on March 15, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

"The 47 percent" became the phrase presidential candidate Mitt Romney couldn't unsay.

But now, the statistic he was referencing -- the percentage of Americans who pay no federal income taxes -- has actually fallen, dropping about 5 percentage points to 43 percent.


A new analysis from the Tax Policy Center found the number has fallen from 2009, when its analysis produced the now 47 percent figure, and will likely continue to fall.

By 2024, the analysis found, that number will fall to about 33 percent.

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The TPC took pains to point out the interpretation of the figure, as implied by Romney and taken up by much of the media coverage surrounding the secretly recorded comment, was misleading.

"Many commentators misinterpreted the estimate as saying that nearly half of all households paid no tax at all when, in fact, nearly everyone pays something," wrote Roberton Williams, a senior fellow with the TPC. "Even if they don’t pay federal income tax, Americans almost all pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, state and local sales taxes, excise taxes, or some other levy."

"These people are taxpayers," he said. "That’s an important point to make, I think."

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Of the 43 percent of households that pay no federal taxes, almost half have incomes too low to reach the threshold for paying federal income tax. The other half sees those taxes canceled out by preferences such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, which are written into the tax code.

Still, two in three of households that don't pay federal income tax still pay payroll taxes: only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, most of whom are elderly.

The Urban Institute even put together a helpful video to debunk the myth put forward by the misinterpretation of the "47 percent."

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