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."
Related on HuffPost:
"That's not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs," Scott said in an email to <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/senate-races/250157-sen-scott-brown-denounces-romney-comments" target="_hplink">The Hill</a>.
"He was obviously inarticulate in making this point," Ryan <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/paul-ryan-mitt-romney-video_n_1895403.html" target="_hplink">said</a> during an interview with a Nevada television station.
"This could be the opportunity for Romney, and for that campaign, to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism, start explaining liberty to people and what it means," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/rush-limbaugh-mitt-romney_n_1893882.html" target="_hplink">Limbaugh said</a> Tuesday. "And explain that they don't need to be in that 47 percent. There's no reason for them, for everybody to be -- essentially having given up on their future in this country. There's no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism."
"Mitt Romney probably could have better explained himself. I think he was a little clumsy in doing this," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/house/249975-rep-allen-west-romney-a-little-clumsy-with-47-percent-comment" target="_hplink">West said</a> on Fox News.
"Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I'd put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/brooks-thurston-howell-romney.html?ref=davidbrooks" target="_hplink">Brooks wrote</a>. "He's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?"
"It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Romney's comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant," <a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/note-romney-s-arrogant-and-stupid-remarks_652548.html" target="_hplink">Kristol wrote</a>.
"He has to not apologize, because we've seen enough apologizing already, and he cannot apologize," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/campaign/249993-trump-romney-cannot-apologize-for-inartful-comments-at-fundraiser" target="_hplink">Trump said</a> on NBC News. "What he said is probably what he means." Trump also said that Romney's words were "inartfully stated."
"The Romney campaign should double down on what he said. They should own it. The trouble for the left and media (but I repeat myself) is that most Americans agree with Mitt Romney. Most Americans consider themselves part of the 53% and it is not a winning proposition for Barack Obama to convince Americans they are less than they think they are when most Americans already recognize he has made them less than they were," <a href="http://www.redstate.com/2012/09/17/treat-the-press-as-enemy-collaborators/" target="_hplink">Erickson wrote</a> in a blog post on RedState.com.
"[Romney] believes that every American has got to have skin in the game...he doesn't want what the president wants," <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/09/christie-romney-wants-to-empower-people-135893.html" target="_hplink">Christie said</a> on Fox News, adding that Romney wants to "empower individuals...and that's what he's really talking about."
"The idea that you're declaring, 'Well, the race is over. Mitt Romney doesn't care about people,'" <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/laura-ingraham-fired-up-over-romneys-47-tape-its-ridiculous-this-is-getting-airtime/" target="_hplink">Ingraham said </a>on Fox News. "Meanwhile, you have a president whose policies have undermined the 47 percent. ... I'm very pumped up about this. I think it's ridiculous that people are seizing on it and that we're even giving all that much airtime to it, frankly."
"I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track," <a href="http://www.lindaforsenate2012.com/news/press-releases/2012/09/18/linda-mcmahon-response-to-mitt-romneys-remarks/" target="_hplink">McMahon said</a> in a statement.
"To read many of the reactions on Twitter, you'd think Mother Jones had just found video of Mitt Romney strangling a hooker with her own pantyhose," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/322394/quick-thoughts-freeloaderdammerung-jonah-goldberg" target="_hplink">Goldberg wrote</a>. "Indeed, many people understand what Romney is getting at here, even if he's saying it badly."