That “47%” includes lots of Mormons

September 18, 2012



Post by Rob T.

One of my lengthiest discussions about Mormonism happened with a high school friend who had just finished his first year at a top-25 dental school.

It started with his question: “Why do so many of you become dentists? Half of my class is Mormon: they’re all from Utah, they’re all married, and they all have two or three kids.”

While I never answered that particular question, I’ve had many Mormon friends go to dental school. My wife completed professional school, I’m almost done with a doctoral program. We Mormons are told to get married, have children, and get all the education we can. This leads to a simple fact: despite the fact that we’ve settled down, we’re raising the next generation, and we’re working very hard to secure a stable future, we fall into Governor Romney’s 47% who pay no income tax, who can’t be convinced to “take personal responsibility and care for [our] lives.” 

There are two broad reasons we pay no income tax (though, of course, we still pay sales, gas, and payroll taxes). First, as Ezra Klein lays out, Republican tax cuts have reduced the income tax liability for poor and middle-income Americans, even as that reduced liability is now being used as a reason to cut services to pay for new tax cuts for our wealthier fellow citizens. Second, as explains, over the last few decades, presidents from both parties have supported and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. This is because they’ve believed that it was good to encourage people to work and to have children. There’s that personal responsibility again.

We don’t consider ourselves victims for choosing to marry young, go to graduate school, and have a daughter. We’ve had incredible opportunities, and done our best to only use as much of the social safety net as we needed, and not begrudging others who used more. (If anyone out there doubts the general eligibility of young Mormon student families for government benefits, check out this thread from Mormon Mentality in 2007. It’s one of the most epic discussions that has ever graced the Bloggernacle.) We do our best to take responsibility for our lives, both in the here and now and in planning for the future.

Four years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to hear Michelle Obama speak at a rally in North Carolina. She talked about how she and Barack only managed to finish paying off their student loans in 2004, as sales of Dreams From My Father started to take off. The President’s also talked about this. Sitting in those bleachers back in May of 2008, listening to the future First Lady as we faced graduate school and having kids, we said to one another, “She and Barack get it. They know what we’re going through. They’re going to pursue policies that help young families who are just starting out.” And so they have.

We Mormons are taught to take responsibility, to make choices that can lead to getting an education, to marriage, to children. Many of us are part of the 47%, and many of us are voting for President Obama, because we know he’s got our backs.

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17 Comments on “That “47%” includes lots of Mormons”

  1. Dave Says:

    but you just confirm Romney’s point…your mind is determined, you are not the audience he needs to win over in terms of winning the election. In terms of political rhetoric and stereotyping, democrats doing it just as much when they are talking among themselves as humorously pointed out by Jon Stewart himself.—the-party-of-inclusion

    • Joseph M Says:

      But Dave, he doesn’t prove Romney’s point: just because somebody isn’t paying federal income tax doesn’t mean they are a victim, or that they are irresponsible in their choices. Additionally, I pay taxes – and I have paid taxes ever since I graduated from my Master’s program and started my first job. And I am voting for Obama – and no amount of proposed tax cuts for the rich will sway me otherwise. Am I part of that 47%?

      Once again, Romney is showing that he struggles to understand people – American people. And he also ain’t so good at math.

    • Eli Blake Says:

      I think he ran three things together. 1. that 47% have definitively decided to vote for Obama and won’t change our mind (which is true,) and 2. that a similar percentage do not pay income tax (which may or may not be accurate,) and 3. that a similar percentage get a check from the government (which also is not the same as paying no income tax.)

      The fallacy is to imply that the first group is the same as the second and third groups. In so doing he makes many broad assumptions, for example that poor people are only interested in voting because they get food stamps and that that determines their vote. This window into Romney’s mind is perhaps most revealing. He doesn’t see either Obama voters or people who receive government assistance as individuals, but as a group of people he can ignore.

  2. sartaber Says:

    I’ma chime in here as the other half of the couple. There were a couple years where I’m pretty sure we were eligible for food stamps– and we didn’t use them, because we were doing ok without them.

    The primary factor that led me to go on to graduate school was that if I didn’t, my only route for health insurance would have been Medicaid– and as a healthy, educated adult with zero or only one dependent (depending on the year), I didn’t think it was ok to go on state aid when I could train myself for future gainful employment instead.

    We passed up thousands of dollars in state and federal aid because we felt that we didn’t NEED need it, and there were plenty of other people who did. We said “No thanks” to welfare that some Tea Party relatives *encouraged* us to take.

    And we’re voting for Obama.

  3. robtaber Says:

    Dave: Thanks for your comment. It’s true that Democrats engage in stereotyping, that all people do. (Jon Stewart is great at point out our human foibles.) I wasn’t, however, “pre-determined.” There were many things both in 2007-2008 and this cycle that Governor Romney could have done to win me over, including stronger pledges to protect the basic safety net. I’m not voting for President Obama because I’m dependent on government programs beyond how much any of us are, it’s because I want those programs to be in place for those who need it, and I think it was a mistake for him and the Republican party to write off anyone who doesn’t have income tax liability at the end of the year.

  4. AnybodyButOBAMA Says:

    Summary of this article: “The idealized ‘Mormon Lifestyle’ of advanced degrees for husband and wife (who had a gaggle of kids while in college) is best supported by taking government assistance and exacerbating the problem of free riders (an established flaw in socialist policy). Our selfish interest in keeping up with the Joneses is more important than societal problems (although we are big fans of social/community contracts) so we will continue eschewing financial/reproductive responsibility and vote for the guy who wants to give people things the nation cannot afford. Also, Utah’s bankruptcy rates have nothing to do with this attitude and there is no man behind that curtain. We also don’t like that Ezra Taft Benson guy very much.”

    • Joseph M Says:

      A.B.O: advanced degrees and a gaggle of kids does not eqaul “free riding.” Just because one takes advanatage of deductions for educational loans and a child (which is all allowed by law,) this does not make them free loading victims.

      The 47% are seniors (retirees,) military personnel, students, and those that claim deductions for children, or mortgage interest, or student loan payments. Also many of the 47% are actually conservative voters who will be voting for Romney in November. His whole analysis of us Obama supporters is incorrect. As I previously stated, I am NOT part of this 47%, and I happily pay taxes, (and do so in the same spirit and wholeheartedness as I also pay my tithing) and I support Obama.

      If you are really concerned about tax breaks, then it is the wealthy you should be looking to. They benefit from our tax code way more than this so-called 47%.

      Keeping up with the Jonses is a separate issue altogther, and I am not sure where that falls in respect to your argument – especially when you are suggesting that Conservative Republican Utah has a high bankruptcy rate.

    • sartaber Says:

      The idealized Mormon lifestyle includes an advanced degree for the wife? Somebody’d better inform the Ensign, and quick! : D

  5. Convert for Obama Says:

    Who are the 47% governor Romney was talking about? Our family gets a break at tax time because we have the usual deductions: Earned Income Tax, Child Tax Credit and the Mortgage Interest Deduction. So, are people like us considered the 47%?
    Now, more than ever, I would love to see the tax returns brother Romney is refusing to release. I read on this article that he makes about $440,000 a week; however, many of us don’t earn enough money to pay income tax. Does that make us free-loaders? It’s not okay for the 47% to get a break, but it’s okay for corporations (and the rich) to enjoy the so called ‘corporate welfare’, right?

  6. Rob To Says:

    You’re right “Obama has got our backs”. And how is he doing it? By laying the shackles of oppressive unbearable debt upon our children’s backs.

    • Eli Blake Says:


      I am troubled by the debt myself. However, it is a fallacy to just blame Obama for it or claim that the only answer is to cut spending.

      When you have a budget, there are two sides to it: What you take in (revenue) and what you spend (payments.) If you spend more than you take in, then you run a deficit. Accumulated deficit (exacerbated by interest) is debt.

      The truth is, that we have historically low tax rates, in fact the lowest overall rates in well over half a century. Yet Mitt Romney proposes to continue the Bush tax rates and then add more tax cuts on top of them. You could slash spending deeply, and still not be able to balance the budget. It’s like if you had a cash flow problem at home, cancelling the credit card and spending less would make sense, but quitting your fulltime job and getting a part time one that paid less would be idiotic– yet that’s the Republican plan on taxes.

      And the truth is, I don’t even trust Republicans to cut spending very far. Look at how much in new spending they put out there during the Bush presidency, and heck look at how they are trying to backtrack on the sequester.

    • Laura Says:

      Rob, Um, George Bush put the shackles of oppressive unbearable debt on us all from a balanced budget, a thriving economy, to the worst economic crisis in America in nearly a century. He did it to give tax cuts to his rich friends and family, to create wealth for his friends in the military equipment manufacture and supply businesses, to get better control over oil for his wealthy friends and Chaney. Now you are blaming Obama because you don’t want to accept responsibility for supporting Bush all those years while he tore our country apart and destroyed our economy except to benefit the richest (one of which I am sure is not you, so why do you defend those people? To you, you are the ugly 47% unless you have a net worth over over 10 billion dollars. I am troubled that someone has programmed your head with the phrase “shackles of oppressive unbearable debt.”

  7. Frank Stark Says:

    The fact is, in round figures, the bottom 50% of the population pays only 3% of the income tax revenue raised. They are also the group that benefits the most from 2 of the biggest items on the budget, that is, Social Security and Medicare (for which they do pay taxes) and other welfare programs such as Food Stamps. People who benefit from big government are not likely to vote for it’s reduction. As one sage said, a democracy only lasts until the people find out that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.
    Joseph M, I do not pay taxes with the same eagerness that I pay tithing. Money to the Church doesn’t go to corruption or the waste and corruption that is part of government operations.
    You say “and no amount of proposed tax cuts for the rich will sway me otherwise”. You can’t cut taxes for someone who doesn’t pay taxes. The top 1% pays roughly 30% of all income taxes (depending on the year’s data that you cite), and earns 17-19% of the wealth. Sounds like they are already paying more than their share. Moreover, they are providing jobs for the rest of us.
    The problem with Obama and the general Democrat philosophy is that so much of it is based on coveting what someone has, and using the force (government) to steal it. It is the epitome of self deception, pushing policies that feel good, that promise to help, while they don’t. There will always be poor. Part of that deception is the idea that conservatives don’t want to help the poor, don’t feel compassion for the homeless and sick, hate the environment, want war, in short, are so short of the milk of human kindness as to make Voldemort seem like a humanitarian. Actually, we do want to help them. But our methods differ. We don’t think yours work. We think that most of the writings of the prophets on political philosphy and economics point more toward libertarian, free enterprise/free market direction. Especially, anything socialistic has been overtly preached to as being wrong.

    • L Says:

      Frank, unfortunately that is how YOU see things because you choose to see it that way. It has been my experience that the folks I know who are using government programs the most in the US are conservatives. While they have demonised others who receive help from government programs, they feel perfectly justified that they are entitled to them. It is a general distrust of others and government that unfortunately knits Republicans in this country together. As someone who is not from the US I am personally appalled at the selfish attitude of so many members of the church. This, my friend, is the reason why the law of consecration failed.

      Ironically, countries where there is a more established safety net and higher taxes coupled with strong regulation of corporations (so that they don’t bilk people) are the countries which are doing better. There is no deception here. And there is nothing about coveting among the Democrat philosophy. Instead, I would state that the callousness of “I built this” (which lacks humility and gratitude) is what creates the covetousness you mentioned. I see less jealousy and need for keeping up with the Joneses among my democrat friends than my republican friends. Trickle down economics do not work because those making the money will never be interested in using their profits to hire more people; they’ll use it to buy themselves more things.

      I’ve never seen more selfishness than living among conservative members in Utah and it’s awful to see. I often don’t recognise my religion when I go to church.

  8. Frank Stark Says:

    Dear L
    “Trickle down economics do not work because those making the money will never be interested in using their profits to hire more people; they’ll use it to buy themselves more things.”
    Back in the nineties it was decided that yachts were a luxury that only the super rich could afford, so it was decreed that, as such, they could be taxed so that those wasting money on them would be punished.
    It did not hurt the rich. What it did was kill the yacht business in the US. Many small shipyards shut down, putting welders, woodworkers, piping workers, and those who worked on a myriad of the gadgets involved in making and fitting out a yacht out of work. It worked like many other jealous, soak the rich schemes. In the end, it hurt only the little guy. The English killed off much of their general aviation with the same envious tax policies.
    As a matter of fact, trickle down economics in a free market does work. If one doesn’t have money, they cannot give it.

    Conservatives tend to much more generous than liberals. The real differentiator between generous and stingy is how religious a person is. The stingiest group is secular conservatives, with secular liberals a close second place. This year Pres. Obama finally matched Romney for charitable giving, with VP Biden giving a whopping amount of…look it up.


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