This was the week that the number “47 percent” became etched in political consciousness.
The week that Mitt Romney found himself in class warfare of his own making. In a leaked video from a fund-raiser, the GOP presidential nominee was heard writing off 47 percent of the population as non-taxpaying entitlement-dependent victims who’d never vote for him.
But who are these non-taxpayers, where do they live — and how do they tend to vote? The answers are surprising.
Using a map from the Tax Foundation, the Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews dubbed Idaho one of America’s “moocher” states. A condescending title earned because, in 2008, 258,528 Idahoans who filed income tax forms owed no money to Uncle Sam. This amounted to nearly 39 percent of all Idaho filings, compared to a national “non-payer” rate of 36 percent.
Of the nation’s 10 “moocher” states, said Matthews, eight are considered solidly in Romney’s camp. That includes Idaho, obviously, and these red-tinted “moocher” states could provide Romney 96 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win on Nov. 6.
The only exceptions are Florida, a swing state, and New Mexico, which is likely to support Democrat Barack Obama.
Interesting stuff, and a useful backdrop for the depressing data dump that the U.S. Census Bureau unleashed on Thursday.
The “highlights,” in a manner of speaking:
• Idaho’s median household income dropped by 8.9 percent from 2008 to 2011. Idaho was one of only nine states to record three successive years of decline — and only Georgia and Nevada suffered a steeper three-year decline.
• Big deal, you say? Idaho has always been a low-wage, low-cost of living state, you say? Perhaps. With a median household income of $43,341, Idaho has always skewed a lot closer to No. 51-ranked Mississippi ($36,919) than top-ranked Maryland ($70,004).
But here’s something that is a big deal. Idaho lost ground nationally during its three-year struggle. Six states leapfrogged Idaho, whose median household income now ranks No. 41 nationally.
• With income dropping, 16.5 percent of Idahoans lived in poverty in 2011, up from 15.7 percent in 2010. The number of Idaho households receiving food stamps also increased, from 72,000 in 2010 to more than 78,000 in 2011.
• More Idahoans have health insurance — 83.5 percent in 2011, up from 82.3 percent a year ago. But as the Idaho Department of Labor pointed out in a news release, this was “primarily due to additional people qualifying for government health care.”
More Idahoans using food stamps? More Idahoans relying on government health care? Little surprise, then, that Idaho is moving up in the Tax Foundation’s “moocher” rankings — again, losing ground compared to other states. Idaho’s non-payer rate for 2010 ranked No. 8 nationally, compared to a No. 10 ranking two years earlier.
Why am I darkening your Friday with a litany of numbers that all add up to something that is common knowledge: the Great Recession exacted a steep toll on Idaho’s economy? To make a simple case.
Idaho is a poor state, in terms of wealth.
A poorer state than it was, just a few short years ago.
And a state where people are relying on federal assistance, in growing numbers.
Those are facts.
In order for us to really know ourselves, we need to know and comprehend the facts about ourselves.
You don’t have to like the “moocher” moniker. I don’t care for it either. But let’s have a moment of honesty amongst ourselves. Food stamps and Medicaid aren’t black-hole federal programs — bankrolled by Idahoans, benefiting only recipients in distant inner cities.
These programs are also supporting our neighbors.
Our self-styled image of the hardscrabble independent Idahoan who refuses federal assistance — except for, maybe, some farm subsidies — is a caricature. Like all caricatures, it is not drawn to scale.
Kind of like the caricature offered up, in an unfiltered and illustrative moment, by one Mitt Romney. The caricature of the 47 percent he was willing to write off — not just as Election Day supporters, but as productive participants in the American economy.
So let me connect the dots, one last time. When Romney was carping about the 47 percent, he was talking about a whole lot of Idahoans. He may hold you in disdain. But you can bet he is banking on you and your four electoral votes.