Las Vegas Sun

November 29, 2015

Currently: 46° — Complete forecast

j. patrick coolican:

Portraits of the 47 percent don’t match Romney’s narrative


Leila Navidi

Ronald Gladstone, Zulma Pleitez and Pam Ford photographed on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Mitt Romney is gracing us with his presence in Las Vegas today.

In case you missed it this week, Mother Jones magazine showed video on its website of Romney telling a group of wealthy donors back in May that people who vote for President Barack Obama — nearly half the country — are “dependent upon government,” “believe they are victims,” “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Also, this 47 percent of the country who are leeches are the same 47 percent who pay no federal income tax.

Romney is basically saying that nearly half the country doesn’t contribute its fair share and is mooching off the other half.

“And so my job is not to worry about those people — I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney said.

Well, given that we’re talking about half the country, these parasites must be all around us, so I decided to find some.

“That’s me,” quipped Pam Ford, 67, a retired human resources manager. She retired early to take care of her dying mother, and now she gets by on Social Security and Medicare, an annuity and a small retirement nest egg. (Having suffered a beating in the 2008 market crash, she’s understandably against the Republican fantasy of privatizing Social Security.)

With her mortgage deduction and medical bills, she winds up paying no federal income tax, though, of course, she pays lots of other taxes, especially at the state and local level.

“Romney said we shouldn’t worry about the 47 percent because we’re all deadbeats and we’re gonna vote for Obama. He’s out of touch with reality. He’s talking about the middle class,” she said.

Ronald Gladstone is a kitchen supervisor and Culinary Union member at the D — the downtown hotel that was formerly Fitzgeralds — for $15.80 per hour. He also works at Cashman Field, for a total of 65 hours per week. He pays federal income tax, but his 26-year-old daughter, who has spina bifida and is severely disabled, does not, and she receives Medicaid and Social Security disability.

Gladstone’s oldest son is a 31-year-old Army vet who served three terms in Iraq, is attending college on the GI Bill and isn’t on the federal income tax rolls.

Zulma Pleitez, another Culinary member, is a single mom of six children who is a room attendant at Encore. She cleans 12 rooms during an eight-hour shift and makes $16 per hour, plus tips. (Note to out-of-town readers: If you do not tip room attendants, you are a lowlife.) Pleitez pays 7.6 percent of her income in federal payroll taxes, which her employer matches, plus state and local taxes, but she doesn’t make enough to pay federal income tax. She also receives food stamps.

Pleitez, a legal resident on her way to citizenship, came here nearly 20 years ago from El Salvador because, she said, “I wanted to give my kids a future I couldn’t have in my country.” Her English is strong, but she wanted to be precise, so an interpreter helped.

(Gladstone and Pleitez have taken a leave of absence from their jobs and a cut in pay to work for the union this election season. The Culinary has played a central role in building what middle class we have in Las Vegas. They fear Romney would continue the decades-long assault on labor unions.)

Christina Gordon works a 40-hour week at Wal-Mart and is studying criminal justice at Nevada State College. Her husband works for a subcontractor, but together they don’t make enough to pay federal income tax. They receive food and housing assistance and their children are insured through Medicaid.

She works 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., picks up her children at 4 and gets them busy with homework. After they go to bed, she does her own homework until well after midnight.

In Romney’s telling, she’s a deadbeat.

By now, Romney’s fascinating theory has been so shredded by so many commenters on the left and right that it’s become Monty Python’s Black Knight, its arms and legs severed, nothing left but a babbling head.

Let’s review anyway:

Welfare queens? Hardly. The middle class and the wealthy are also recipients of government programs. As the Associated Press reported this week, 50 million Americans collect Social Security and 46 million receive Medicare health coverage.

There’s no means test for these programs directed at the elderly, so the beneficiaries of both programs include poor, middle class and rich.

This shouldn’t be surprising. The land grant colleges, the GI Bill and other college aid, along with Medicare and Social Security — these were all government programs of one kind or another designed to build and maintain a strong middle class, and they’ve been wildly successful.

Another 3 million Americans receive veterans compensation. Perhaps today in Las Vegas, Romney will finally grasp his charismatic power to persuade these veterans to “take responsibility and care” for their own lives.

As we’ve seen from the people I interviewed, Romney the teetotaler knows more about whiskey than he does about the average American tax burden, unless he was being willfully dishonest, which is always a possibility.

Although it’s true that 46.4 percent paid no federal income tax, nearly two-thirds of that group pay federal payroll taxes, which are 7.6 percent of income, matched by their employer. (Add these together, and they’re greater than Romney’s own 13.9 percent effective 2010 federal tax rate.) Also, the 47 percent figure is artificially high because of the recession, when many Americans suffered a steep loss of income.

In addition, these Americans pay state and local taxes, which tend to be regressive, meaning the poor pay a greater share of their income than the rich.

Indeed, here in Nevada, the poorest 20 percent of the population pays nearly 9 percent of their income in state and local taxes while the richest 1 percent — people like Romney — pay less than 2 percent of their income, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

See the chart we put together; when federal, state and local taxes are added together, the poor and working classes pay substantial taxes.

Among the other Americans who pay no federal income tax, most are retired, disabled or students.

For good measure, Romney doesn’t know anything about politics. The states with the most families who pay no federal income taxes are concentrated in the Bible Belt, which will back Romney. Elderly voters are backing Romney, too, and they are the biggest beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare.

In other words, he was insulting his own voters.

I’ll close with a personal example: My sister is married to a retired U.S. Army colonel. Near the end of his military service, the family’s tax benefits included child tax credits for five children and deductions for mortgage interest and charitable giving. Also, a small amount of his military income was nontaxable.

When all was said and done, they owed no federal income tax.

Romney once wrote a book called “No Apology.” (Available this November in every bargain bin in every bookstore in America.)

On this issue, I would say Romney should consider another Romney flip-flop and offer an apology to the tens of millions of Americans he’s insulted.

If it’s too distasteful, maybe he can pay someone to do it for him.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy