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Who Are the 47 Percent?

by Reihan Salam

Mitt Romney’s simplistic take on a complicated situation

A great deal of ink has already been spilled over Mitt Romney’s off-the-record remarks at a fundraiser concerning the 47 percent of Americans who are dependent on government, who do not pay federal income taxes, and who would never dream of voting for a Republican presidential candidate. President Obama has woven references to Romney’s supposed contempt for the 47 percent into his stump speech, to great effect. Many on the left are convinced that Romney’s reference to the 47 percent has cemented the perception that he is a clueless plutocrat, thus dooming his presidential campaign.

In response to this feeding frenzy, many on the right have leapt to Romney’s defense. And Romney’s defenders have made at least one crucially important point, which is that the dependency the former Massachusetts governor referenced is a serious and growing problem. In the latest issue of National Affairs, David Armor and Sonia Sousa of George Mason University document the extraordinary growth of federal anti-poverty schemes such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Between 2000 and 2010, the number of SNAP beneficiaries has gone from 17 million to 40 million. Much of this growth can be attributed to a rapid rise in the number of non-poor households that receive SNAP benefits. As of 2010, these households accounted for 48 percent of the SNAP rolls. Over that same decade, Medicaid enrollment shot up from 33 million to 54.6 million, and that number is expected to increase dramatically if President Obama’s health-care law goes into effect as scheduled.

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