“WHEN Mitt Romney told the guests at a fund-raiser in Florida in May that America is divided between people who pay no income taxes and depend on government and pretty much everyone else, he missed the deeper truth. It is not just that most of the 47 percent Mr. Romney talked about do pay payroll taxes and that many of them have paid income taxes in the past. The reality he glossed over is that nearly all Americans have used government social policies at some point in their lives. The beneficiaries include the rich and the poor, Democrats and Republicans. Almost everyone is both a maker and a taker.
We have unique data from a 2008 national survey by the Cornell Survey Research Institute that asked Americans whether they had ever taken advantage of any of 21 social policies provided by the federal government, from student loans to Medicare. These policies do not include government activity that benefits everyone — national defense, the interstate highway system, food safety regulations — but only tangible benefits that accrue to specific households. The survey asked about people’s policy usage throughout their lives, not just at a moment in time, and it included questions about social policies embedded in the tax code, which are usually overlooked.
What the data reveal is striking: nearly all Americans — 96 percent — have relied on the federal government to assist them. Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent.”
We Are the 96 Percent | NYT