Before Ashley Conover's fall semester started at Georgetown College in Kentucky, she spent the summer working full-time in a Heinz factory as a machine operator. Now that Conover is back on campus, the 19-year-old college sophomore works part-time in the on-campus career center as a student coordinator on top of her full-time class schedule.
Those jobs provide Conover with "a little bit of money," she said, though she is really only able to attend college because of scholarships and the federal Pell Grant. But she's not happy about GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney saying people like her -- who are exempt from federal income taxes and receive government benefits -- believe they are "victims."
Recent video released by Mother Jones shows Romney claiming 47 percent of Americans are supporters of President Obama because they are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them." Romney went on to state he could never get that 47 percent to "take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
"We're not victims," Conover said. "It's not like those 47 percent are never going to be paying taxes."
According to the Tax Policy Center, 46.4 percent of U.S. households paid no federal income tax in 2011. However, two-thirds of those households still paid federal payroll taxes, which pay into Social Security and Medicare; and this doesn't begin to factor in state and local taxes, such as sales, gas and property taxes.
Of those exempt from federal income taxes are many college students, either because they don't make enough in their side jobs to enter the lowest taxable income bracket, or because tax credits for their pursuit of higher education qualify them.
Romney, for his part, did not use federal assistance to get through school, relying in part on the sale of stock given to him by his father.
"I don't think I can connect with Romney," Conover said. "I mean, I know he created his own business, [but] he's never had to be in our situation."
Several college students who spoke with The Huffington Post expressed outrage over Romney's comments, and said they didn't appreciate being singled out as if they were moochers.
Philip Belcastro, 25, is one of the 150 million Americans who live in a household that receives some type of government benefit.
"If it wasn't for unused student loan money and Pell Grant disbursement, as well as federal tax refund, I would be living paycheck to paycheck all year round and likely unable to afford gas to commute to school," said Belcastro, who's taking classes at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., and hopes one day to become a teacher.
Yet, that government assistance doesn't make things easy for Belcastro. In addition to classes, he works 30 hours a week for "little more than minimum wage," and he worries about paying back his students loans once he obtains his bachelor's degree.
"I find it staggering to be included in a sweeping generalization that asserts that I am a victim," said Malorie Brooke Bennett, who attends Boise State University in Idaho. "Since when is juggling a job, classes, homework and also attempting to be a well-rounded individual through socialization and community outreach looked at as being so negative?"
"I don't feel like a freeloader when I get a full government refund," said LaKendra Johnson, a second-year master's student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Ohio University. "Quite the opposite, it causes me a lot of anxiety!"
Johnson used a mix of federal grants and student loans to pay for school. For extra money, Johnson currently works as a graduate assistant in a program that provides counseling for sexual assault survivors. She has also been a Jimmy John's driver, and while in college worked as a cashier at Buffalo Wild Wings and Old Navy.
The money she got back from the government was used to cover bills outside of her tuition, like rent, food and books. But Johnson said she knows after graduation in May, she'll hear from "someone who'll want the balance of that refund -- and [then] some," referring to student loan payments.
"If it is true in his eyes that they are in fact victims, what would he do to change this?" asked Adam Hill, a student at the University of New Hampshire. "It appears Mr. Romney would like to pick and choose whom he cares for, were he to be elected president of the United States."
Hill doesn't believe Romney's remarks were a gaffe. Instead, he said, "We now have a glimpse of Romney's true character."
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