Opinion: In defense of America’s 47 percent

September 27, 2012


Sharkara Peters is a 35-year-old single mother of two. She works 34 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant. A few months back, she was hospitalized with a blood clot in her lung. Then, one of her daughters needed surgery. As a result, Peters lost about three weeks of work, and could not muster her $335 monthly rent. When I met her last month while in Charlotte reporting on poverty on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, she was facing eviction.

I asked Peters what President Obama should do for people in her economic situation and she answered without hesitation. Obama, she said, needs to do something about girls on welfare that just sit up and have baby after baby and never try to better themselves.

You see, nobody likes freeloaders.

The point is made for the benefit of Mitt Romney. Of course, he’d likely consider Peters herself a freeloader. I’ve not seen her W-2, but it seems a safe bet that, working less than full time for fast-food wages, she doesn’t pay much if anything in federal income taxes. Romney was heard last week in a secretly-recorded video disparaging the 47 percent of Americans — low-income earners like Peters, Social Security recipients and others — that he says pay no taxes. Speaking before a room full of well-heeled donors in Boca Raton, Fla., who had paid $50,000 a plate for some face time with him, the Republican presidential nominee described those non-taxpayers with contempt as people “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims …”

In the video, posted online by the liberal magazine Mother Jones, Romney says it’d be a waste of time pitching his campaign to those moochers: “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Sharkara Peters does not need Mitt Romney’s lectures about personal responsibility.

Nor does George Farmer, 61, who became homeless when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and could no longer drive his truck. Nor does Michelle, an unemployed appliance repair technician trying to raise four girls on $694 a month plus food stamps. Nor do most of the invisible poor, the cashiers and servers, floor moppers and burger flippers whose annual income probably wouldn’t cover maintenance on one of Romney’s car elevators.

If the gaffe concretizes the caricature of an out-of-touch rich guy, a cognac-swilling peer of Thurston Howell III, Charles Emerson Winchester and Montgomery Burns, it’s important to remember that Romney is hardly alone in his sentiments. No, he spoke against a backdrop of vitriol against the have-nots in our society. They are called animals by Ann Coulter, takers by Michelle Malkin, accused of laziness by Rush Limbaugh. Fox “News” person Charles Payne laments the “entitlement mentality” under which they fail to even be properly “embarrassed” by their poverty.

For the record, I gave you no surname for Michelle, the single mother referenced above, precisely because she was too embarrassed to let me use it.

Romney’s remarks, then, are of a piece with a narrative — poverty as character defect — favored by many who know exactly jack about the reality of poverty, but who have discovered that demonizing the faceless poor, giving us someone new to resent and blame, is good politics. They wrap their attacks in rags of righteousness and pretensions of pragmatism, but there is something viscerally wrong, morally shrunken, in a nation where the most fortunate are encouraged to treat the least fortunate as some enemy race.

So the big story here is not about what damage Romney did to his campaign. Yes, the fact that he used condemnation of the poor as a lever of political advantage shames him.

But the very fact that the lever exists shames us all.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on


Constitutional_Malfeasance 1 year, 6 months ago

And I should have noted indy registration is at an all time high. Will November be an upset? Since the polls and pundits are Starting to paint a grim picture for Romney.


Constitutional_Malfeasance 1 year, 6 months ago

A CNN poll showing Romney ahead with independent voters 54-40 seems to be unimportant to the media. Wonder why?


notajayhawk 1 year, 6 months ago

"The point is made for the benefit of Mitt Romney. Of course, he’d likely consider Peters herself a freeloader. I’ve not seen her W-2, but it seems a safe bet that, working less than full time for fast-food wages, she doesn’t pay much if anything in federal income taxes."

What's market rate for an apartment in Charlotte these days, Lenny? Betcha' it's more than $335/month. Did Section 8 pay the rest? And who paid her medical expenses? We keep hearing these horror stories about people that can't get care because they have no insurance, so we can probably guess that this woman and her child's medical expenses were paid by Medicaid? And how much does this woman and her (at least) two children get in food stamps? I wonder why Lenny didn't ask any of these questions.

Whether she's hypocritical enough to say that the administration should get rid of "girls on welfare that just sit up and have baby after baby and never try to better themselves" ... well, at least the other ones, not her, of course ... is irrelevent. The fact is she IS dependent on the government, Lenny, and only dimwitted liberal buffoons would hold her out as an example of a person that disproves Romney's contention (although I have no doubt the kool-aid drinking lemmings of Lawrence will completely agree with you, as usual).


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 6 months ago

Fact Check Time Regarding Food Stamps--

"Mitt Romney claims President Barack Obama caused a doubling of able-bodied persons on food stamps by taking “work out of the food stamps requirement.” That’s an exaggeration. All but four states had already received waivers from specific work requirements for some or all of their residents before Obama became president.

The total number of persons getting food stamps is up 46 percent since Obama took office, a big jump but far short of a doubling. Romney is referring only to single, childless adults of working age, who normally qualify for food stamps for only three months unless they work part-time or live in areas where jobs are scarce or unemployment tops 10 percent.

The number of those single adults getting food stamps did double about the same time that Obama granted a blanket suspension of that work requirement for 18 months as part of his 2009 stimulus law. But the Bush administration had already granted waivers covering some or all of 46 states and the District of Columbia, and more waiver requests were pending as the economy tanked. And despite the rise under Obama, these working-age adults without dependents still made up less than one in 10 on food stamps."


atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

Food stamps recipients double under Obama; Result? Selling food stamps for an iPhone 5 is all the rage

The Heritage Foundation:

A new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) confirms that food stamp participation doubled among able-bodied adults after the Obama Administration suspended the program’s work requirements. As Heritage’s Kiki Bradley notes:

The welfare reform of 1996 requires that after three months on food stamps, recipients be engaged in some kind of work activity for at least 20 hours a week. Tucked away in the mammoth 2009 so-called “stimulus” spending bill was the suspension of this requirement for able-bodied adults with no children.

The result has been that between 2008 and 2010, the number of these able-bodied adults on food stamps doubled—from 1.9 million to 3.9 million, according to CRS. (Total participation is now at roughly 47 million, or one in seven Americans.)


tbaker 1 year, 6 months ago

Romney didn't say a single thing that was incorrect. It was a campaign lunch and he was talking about campaign strategy. Telling the crowd he shouldn't expend a lot of resources trying to win the votes of that portion of society who depend on government hand-outs was nothing more than telling it like it is.

Of course the opposition is going to say this means Mr. Romney doesn't "care" about these people. If you want to follow that logic, then Mr. Obama must not care about the people who "cling" to their guns and religion.


jaywalker 1 year, 6 months ago

"but there is something viscerally wrong, morally shrunken, in a nation where the most fortunate are encouraged to treat the least fortunate as some enemy race."

That goes both ways, Mr. Pitts.

While Romney was wrong and not a little stupid to blanket almost half our citizens in such a light, Pitts' cherry-picking a few folks doesn't explain away 3rd generation welfare recipients nor the notorious sections of any moderately sized city that spends the majority of their time sitting on their front stoops or in front of their double-wides swilling out of paper bags. I'll never forget offering four guys in La. a week's work @ $25/hr, under the table no less. No dice, didn't wanna risk their "cheese." Asked if we did it legit if that would change their minds, they just laughed. And that's not the only occasion.
It ain't 47% by any stretch, but we got plenty.


autie 1 year, 6 months ago

atiopatioo puts up a clip of this woman ranting about her phone and under the impression, or giving the impression the President gave it to her...then turns around and post the denial information. As though a defense needed to be brought up because it was realized the whole clip thing is a farce manufactured by the National Inquirer type Drudge. ??? This is typical of the romney campaign strategery across the board. Fact is we all pay for that service on our phone bills to an extent. The lifeline program was started in earnest by Ronald Reagan, a well known socialist. And continued by George Bush, another well known radical man of the poor....Weak...weak. What was that Pitts said yesterday, something about demonizing the poor to give them someone to hate...dumbasses.


heygary 1 year, 6 months ago

He was pointing out that 47% would not vote for him ... becuase taht is about the percentage which is directly feeding from the state and federal government troughs in one way or another.


notaubermime 1 year, 6 months ago

There are two things in this that really get me. Romney's assumption that the 47% who did not have to pay income tax last year are dependent on the government and do not want to pay in to the system is an awfully big assumption. What this assumption overlooks is the role of tax cuts in creating this number. I find it hypocritical of him to support the Bush tax cuts on one hand, then criticize people for not having taxes to pay on the other. It is poor leadership to blame the citizens of this country for the effect of policies you supported.

The second ridiculous thing about it is that quite a number of these people are not always going to be in this position. Some people probably had a bad year, others probably are not at a point in their careers where they will fit into the paying category. To equate people who are only momentarily not paying income tax with welfare dependents is offensive (and I say that as one of the 53% who did pay last year).


atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

Truth Team’ rushes to throw ‘Obama Phone’ woman under bus Posted at 5:59 pm on September 27, 2012 by Twitchy Staff | View Comments TruthTeam2012 ✔ @truthteam2012 FACT: Discounted phone services are provided through telecom companies, “the President has nothing to do with it.” OFA.BO/s2aYR9 27 Sep 12 ReplyRetweetFavorite

It didn’t take long for the video of a screeching Mitt Romney protester (and 47-percenter poster star) in Ohio to go viral and for #ObamaPhone to trend on Twitter. The Obama campaign noticed it too, and you’d think they’d be quick to thank such a passionate supporter for her boots-on-the-ground help, but instead the campaign’s “Truth Team” has wasted no time disconnecting.

RB@RBPundit It's interesting that Team Obama felt the need to "correct" the #ObamaPhone stuff. A confident campaign would have brushed it off. 27 Sep 12 ReplyRetweetFavorite But why? The woman said she’s voting Obama because the president gave her a free phone. Who’s to say he didn’t?

Obama’s Truth Team quickly tweeted out a link to, which concludes that “Obama Phone” is a complete misnomer. FactCheck even manages to “blame Bush” for the program, noting that the SafeLink program, which provides free cell phones to qualifying applicants who receive food stamps, Medicaid or other federal benefits, “started under President George Bush.”

So, that free cell phone? Obama didn’t buy that. Mr. President, why don’t you want the poor to have cell phones?


George Lippencott 1 year, 6 months ago

I think the vast majority of the 47% are decent hard working citizens and I think most of us think that. There is within the group a percentage that milks the system but how many that may be is not known.

However, because of primarily the EIC there are millions of people in that group who pay no federal income taxes even though they make more than $25K a year. My best estimate from IRS data is that this set numbers about half the 47%. But I am not quibbling over numbers.

My issue is that we are essentially arguing that a significant number of citizens (as much as half ) should not have to pay for the operation of the federal government for whatever reason. That places the tax burden on the other half making as little as $30K. It also makes the operation of the federal government of only academic interest to those not paying taxes as whatever it does has no cost impact on a lot of them

I would think that asking a goodly portion of those in the $25K to 50K income group to pay at least some income tax (many already do - singles) is not unreasonable. The tax rate at that income level is about 10% and after deductions (other than the EIC) the tax would probably be in the region of a few hundred dollars a year. That is cheap compared to all the benefits our federal government provides.


toe 1 year, 6 months ago

Single mother. That says it all.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 6 months ago

Memo To Mitt Romney: The 47% Pay Taxes Too


Of course, it goes without saying, that those folks who aren’t paying federal taxes are almost all paying state and local taxes—state sales taxes, real estate taxes (either on their homes or built into their rents) and possibly state income taxes too, since those taxes tend to exempt fewer poor families than does the federal income tax. If they buy gasoline, liquor or tobacco, or have telephones, they’re also feeding the federal purse.

So maybe a higher share of the American public should be paying at least some amount of federal income tax. The tax code would be simpler, and probably fairer, if we reduced the number of tax expenditures for the wealthy and non-wealthy alike. We all might give more thought to spending restraint.

Then, too, we’re all protected by the military and rely on public infrastructure to get to our jobs, schools, stores and doctors—and yes, to build our businesses.


tange 1 year, 6 months ago

Why address our real problems, which exist at a distance—you can extend your arm and point to them—when we can make it personal.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 6 months ago

I bet a lot of the retired grumps who post on this site pay no federal income tax and suck at the teat of social security and medicare.


Flap Doodle 1 year, 6 months ago

Is the 47% what the 99% used to be, but with less public defecation?


Windemere 1 year, 6 months ago

Much of what Romeny said was stupid and can't be defended. Troubled by the examples Pitts gives though.. It's sad that so many kids are raised in financially unstable, single parent households. Today 40% of births are to unmarried women. And about 80% of first children born to black women were outside of marriage. Unsustainable. Where's the momentum to change the situation? It's easy to dismiss Romney's vision of all Americans being responsible for themselves and their families by making choices that are likely to result in financial stability and no need to rely on government programs. But to the extent that people do those things, isn't everyone better off? The cynics will say that the Democratic party relies on people dependent on government for votes. At the Dem convention, heard things that gave that impression.


demonfury 1 year, 6 months ago

Ole Lenny Pitts is at it again. He goes out and interviews a handful of poor black people, and pawns it off as a method of discrediting Romney's comments. iF Pitts hada shred of integrity, which he does not, He wouldn't have anything to write about in the first place. What he should be writing about is the 23 million unemployed, the 16 trillion dollar debt., the downgrade of the U.S. credit position, the durable goods situation in this country, the impending multi-billion dollar medical disaster called Obamacare, why this election's votes are being counted in Spain, why do we simply apologize for our foreign convictions, why........ Well, you get the point. Lenny is going to be Lenny, and nothing is going to change that. He is a product of his environment and his inability to make rational decisions on his own, rather than what he was programmed for, it the real shame.


atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

From Jafs, "Likely Obama voters are for the most part well educated, and middle class working folks."

You Americans are on your way.


autie 1 year, 6 months ago

Obama seeks to increase the number of people dependent on the federal government? I think not. And what about all the TANF/Vision Card/SSDI/SSI tweaker rednecks down here in my part of the company that don't like having a black president? They don't pay taxes and hate Obama. I guess they are a class unto themselves. But they woudn't know a Romney from a Remus.


Constitutional_Malfeasance 1 year, 6 months ago

So Romney struck a nerve telling the truth. Welfare at an all time high and continued bad job market----the truth us not supposed to be told and Romney was brow-beaten for his comments. Romney wants to decrease goverenment dependence; Obama seeks to increase it. It's just as simple as that. If this nation has become a nation of freeloaders, then elect Obama--again, simple. If personal responsibility is still intact, then elect Romney--simple. We'll see in 40 days.


bscjhawk 1 year, 6 months ago

I will never understand why people think the federal government should be responsible for financial well being of it's citizens. People do need assistance and support in this country, I am not arguing that point, but where do local governments enter the picture? City, County, State, should be the place people go to for assistance not the federal level. That is not nor should it be the role of the US government. Of course, that is just my opinion.


JonasGrumby 1 year, 6 months ago

Here, here. Why is Pitts the only black face on the paper's editorial page? This is a diverse city that believes in diversity. In fact, I don't believe there is a single minority in the J-W newsroom. What gives?


ModerateOne 1 year, 6 months ago

50yr -- the size of the group you think Romney is referring to is nowhere near 47 percent. And that is Pitts' point I think. Clearly Romney was referring to people like "Michelle" because if he.were not, then there is no way to count 47 percent.


50YearResident 1 year, 6 months ago

I think Romney is talking about a different group than Pitts. Romney's group do not work while working the system. Pitts group is working but not getting ahead of the system. They are not the same people.


Armstrong 1 year, 6 months ago

Could Barry also do something about the people I know who are playing the system ? "Them kids is fun and they makes us money too when tax time comes around "


Abdu Omar 1 year, 6 months ago

Right on. Romney surely disgraced himself and should never be elected. If he is, the old folk song is true: " If living were a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die, all my trials lord, soon forgotten."


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