Who are Romney's "47 per cent"?

UPDATE: and where are they?

Mitt Romney delivered a knock to his campaign last night after he said that Barack Obama's voters were the 47 per cent of Americans who are “dependent on government”, do not pay tax and “believe that they are victims”.

He has since described his comments as “not elegantly stated” and “off the cuff”, but hasn't retracted them: leaving untouched his picture of 47 per cent of America as tax-avoiding scroungers.

The most obvious spot-the-difference with this picture is that nearly every American in work pays many forms of tax - including social security tax, petrol tax and sales tax. The rest are mostly looking for work, falling back on part time jobs. The tax Romney is talking about is income tax: the "47 per cent " number comes from the Tax Policy Centre, which broke down the statistic to find that half the number fall below the poverty threshold required to pay the tax, and the other half are entitled to bypass it, because, for example, they are pensioners. The New York Times summarised the analysis:

It found that about half of the households that do not pay federal income tax do not pay it because they are simply too poor. The Tax Policy Center gives as an example a couple with two children earning less than $26,400 a year: The household would pay no federal income tax because its standard deduction and other exemptions would simply erase its liability.

The other half, the Tax Policy Center found, consists of households taking advantage of tax credits and other provisions, mostly support for senior citizens and low-income working families.

Romey's 47 per cent remark touches on a truth, but is not one. These are not people shirking their tax responsibilites, but people who are not and should not be required to pay income tax in the first place. 

UPDATE 18/09/12, 14.30:

The Tax Foundation have published a map showing where the 47 per cent live (via Business Insider) - and it's the red states. Most of them come from a Republican base: of the 10 states with the highest proportion of non-income tax payers, nine are Republican. 

Mitt Romney and wife. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.