Why Don't We Make the Poor Pay More?

09.20.12 1:15 PM ET

Ah, yes, because they aren't exactly swimming in gilded pools of tax-free income. The idea that 53% of America carries the other 47% on its collective back is hardly a new one, but Josh Barro neatly rounds up the rank foolishness of this premise.

Contrary to the Wall Street Journal's insinuations, most people who don't pay federal income tax are not "lucky duckies." The Tax Policy Center has a useful chart explaining why people don't pay income tax. In about half of cases, it's because their incomes are simply too low -- a family of four gets a standard deduction and personal exemptions totaling $26,400, so if they make less than that, they pay no taxes.

In the other half of cases, the $0 bill is due to exemptions, deductions and credits. And in 74 percent of those cases, it's due to three specific tax policies -- the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides income support to poor people; the Child Tax Credit; and tax preferences for the elderly, including an additional standard deduction and favorable treatment of Social Security benefits. Only 26 percent of these filers -- which is to say, about 6 percent of all Americans -- have a $0 income tax bill for other reasons, such as tuition tax credits. ...

As Barro notes, there are plenty of tax reforms that might place more "skin in the game" for America's working class and poor, but none of them are the source of our fiscal salvation. I hope Barro is wrong to label this incident the end of Mitt's campaign, but if he's correct, the 47% meme must die with Romney's candidacy.