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47%? 49%? 30%? 60%?

If you’re trying to make sense out of this constantly shifting debate about the supposed percentage of Americans who are “dependent,” check out this post by Mike Konczai at The Next New Deal  [1].

In it, he explores where some of these numbers that are getting thrown around came from and what the people behind them are really trying to accomplish. 

“The right is splitting over [2] whether or not the 47 percent argument is worth defending. It’s important to understand that, while it is true that 47 percent of households don’t pay a federal income tax, the distribution of the tax burden isn’t what the 47 percent theory is about. The 47 percent theory is all about grand political battles. My colleague Mark Schmitt has one examination of where this theory comes from here [3]Brian Beutler also investigates the background [4] of the 47 percent meme, and Kevin Drum does a history of the EITC here [5].

Digging into different arguments, there are two distinct parts to a good 47 percent theory. The first is who creates and sustains the 47 percent as a political agent. This can’t be the bipartisan set of policymakers who wanted to do income support through work requirements as well as expand certain credits, particularly the child credit; it needs to be agents with specific, outside political goals. Those who pay little or no income tax are a coherent group that acts like a special interest or a class. Instead of the young and the old, as well as the working poor moving into and out of the EITC [6], this group of people is stable enough that it can act as a coherent political class, but it needs to be created and sustained. Who does it?”

John Schmitt’s post, which is referenced in the quote above (“The theory of the moocher class [3]“), is also worth a look.