09/18/2012 09:04 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Inglorious 53% Story: Living (Way) Below the Poverty Line and Paying Taxes

 "All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what... These are people who pay no income tax." - Mitt Romney

Until Mitt Romney's statement caused me to dig up my last tax return out of curiosity, I had no idea that I was part of the heralded 53%. Let's look at that for a minute. Here are the most relevant lines from my 2011 taxes:


After three decades of working in various jobs, the last one with the USPS, I decided that Charles Bukowski was addressing me directly when he wrote, "I have one of two choices -- stay in the post office and go crazy -- or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve."  In 2010, after an extended illness made me reevaluate my life, I went on a blogging road trip across the United States with the support of friends. The next year, I dedicated myself to writing full-time. I published one book and started another, only breaking for occasional freelance assignments. I lived like a pauper by choice, and no, I didn't apply for or receive any type of "entitlement."  I was prepared to tough it out, to forego basics like regular meals, but what was a planned attempt at a new career for me is absolutely not a choice for many jobless or low-wage Americans.  While Romney's view of the poor is that of shiftless, lazy beggars who are content to live from one handout to the next, I know a more authentic and firsthand truth. I spent my early 20s as a working divorced mother who received no child support. They were the hardest, most exhausting, and frightening years of my life. I often worked two jobs, and it took a long time to escape the brutal, one step forward, two steps back cycle of poverty. I would have never repeated any part of it, except for the fact that my children were grown, and I was hopeful that with a concerted effort and sacrifice, I could significantly improve my future. It was a privilege to be able to intentionally choose what I did -- to chase after my own American Dream -- but it would have been a different experience if I'd unexpectedly lost my job, had a mortgage to pay, and children to feed.

When I was at my poorest and had dependents, I generally received tax refunds that included a good sized Earned Income Credit. That once a year check was a lifesaver when my children were young, allowing me to catch up on the bills that had fallen behind, or buy the necessities I couldn't afford with my low-wage paycheck, like eyeglasses, root canals, car repairs, and clothing. The EIC for single poor people, I recently learned, is not that generous. As a single, self-employed person with no dependents, and an adjusted gross income of $5307, I still owed taxes. My income was about 51.63% of the official government poverty guideline for a single person.


My tax rate was 9.74% of my total income (or 10.3% of my adjusted gross income). Mitt Romney (who has called the interest in his tax returns "small-minded") paid 13.9% on his only released return so far. His 2010 income was 21.7 million dollars. Interestingly enough, all of Romney's earnings came from investment income and interest, and not a cent was from actual wages.

I made about .02591% of what Mitt Romney did in 2010, and although my contribution probably wouldn't cover the cost of coffee and bottled water for one Senate session, I did pay taxes and I don't begrudge doing so. I didn't mind paying when I made decent wages in my later years, and I don't mind today. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once pointed out, taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Of course, we'd be more civilized if there were fewer Republican ideologues like Romney, whose toxic, tin-cup stereotypes are meant to divide the working classes and draw attention away from the entitlements and traded political favors of the silver spoon set.

I'm voting for President Obama. Not because I feel like a victim, or because I feel entitled to eat (god forbid!), or have a roof over my head, but because I don't want to live in an America run by a man who is so out of touch with reality, so far removed from anything resembling common life experience, that he sees 47% of American citizens -- the working poor, the lower middle-classes, the under and unemployed, the seniors, vets, and disabled  -- as hapless, thieving vultures.I don't want a president who waffles on the minimum wage, then sheepishly follows the party line that touts $7.25 per hour ($15,080) as a livable wage, while "200-250 thousand or less" is middle class.

Romney isn't just slightly out of touch, he's in a Rove/Randian Twilight Zone. But far from being an inventive Hank Reardon or a gold-running Ragnar Danneskjöld, he's really much more like Dr. Robert Stadler -- the man who would wreak havoc on the world for the sake of prestige and a title. His ideas, most of them recycled from the Bush era, would be like an economic Project X for anyone not in the upper classes. Americans deserve better, whether they're in the 47% or 53%. We deserve a leader who shows civility, respect, and at least some understanding of the struggles average Americans are facing.

UPDATE: To those who are pointing out that I pad SEP (self-employment tax) instead of FIT (Federal Income Tax): the SEP was the lion's share (all but $75) of what I paid, and Mitt Romney did say "income tax." However, the fact is that I made $5622 and paid taxes of $547. These taxes, like all taxes, are mandatory and were almost 10% of the total I made while earning slightly more than 51% of poverty level wages. Mitt Romney may or may not have paid FIT in recent years. I know he did pay SEP as a public speaker in 2010, (the only complete tax return he has release so far), and I do believe these taxes were counted toward the "effective tax rate" of 13.9% that has been attributed to him. We can split hairs over how my contribution was divided up, but the context of Romney's speech was that people in the lower classes are looking for and feel entitled to government handouts; they don't take responsibility for their lives, and they are all voting for Obama. As someone who worked regular jobs for 30+ years, about 8 of them while living near or below the poverty line, I take great exception to Romney's disdain of the working class. As a single parent, I often worked two jobs to make ends meet. The EIC was a lifesaver for me and I was, for a time, in that 47% he speaks of. In later years, particularly as a single person with no deductions, I paid much more. I didn't begrudge it either way. I certainly never felt irresponsible.