Raleigh, N.C. — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's comments at a fundraiser earlier this year have sparked a national debate about who pays and who doesn't pay income taxes.
Romney was secretly videotaped telling supporters that "[M]y job is is not to worry about" 47% of the nation's population because they don't pay taxes and believe they are victims and entitled to a range of government support. He said he would not try to win their votes because "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Most experts agree about 47 percent of Americans don't owe federal income taxes. The nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says about 61 percent of those people work and do pay federal payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare.
Another 22 percent of people who don't pay income tax are senior citizens, who benefit from higher deductions and Social Security benefits that usually aren't taxed. The remaining 17 percent include students, people with disabilities, the long-term unemployed and wealthier people whose deductions outweigh their tax debts.
About four out of five filers who don't owe federal income tax make less than $30,000 a year.
According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, the states with the highest percentage of people who don't owe federal income tax are mostly in the South. Mississippi ranks first, followed by Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Arkansas.
North Carolina ranks 12th on the list, with 37.9 percent of the people who filed federal tax returns in 2010 not owing any federal income tax.
The state ranks high because it has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Also, its poverty rate is higher than the national average and median household income lower than average. That means more households either don't make enough to owe taxes or they're eligible for tax credits and deductions that offset them.
North Carolina's population of seniors also is growing, and the state has a large number of active-duty military members who don't pay federal income tax on their combat pay or living allowances.
Even those who don't pay federal income tax pay taxes in some form, such as sales tax, excise tax on cars and gasoline and property tax.