The 53%: We are NOT Occupy Wall Street

The 53%: We are NOT Occupy Wall Street

@CNNMoney October 26, 2011: 9:50 AM ET

occupy wall street

Frank Decker has a message for those at Occupy Wall Street.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Occupy Wall Street protesters might say they represent 99% of the nation, but there's a growing number of Americans who are making it clear they are not part of the dissident crowd.

They call themselves the in the 53% of Americans who pay federal income taxes. And they are making their voices heard on Tumblr blogs, Twitter and Facebook pages devoted to stories of personal responsibility and work ethic.

The number originates in the estimate that roughly 47% of Americans don't pay federal income tax, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. The 53 percenters stress the fact that they are paying the taxes that support the government assistance the protesters say they want.

Kevin Eder was among the first to galvanize those who wanted to differentiate themselves from the thousands of people rallying across the nation to raise awareness of the growing economic gap between the rich and everyone else.

In early October, Eder created the Twitter hashtag #iamthe53, which has since been posted in hundreds of tweets as the backlash to Occupy Wall Street mounts.

"I would never identify myself with those occupying Wall Street," said Eder, 26, a business analyst in Washington D.C. "The frustration was born out of people claiming to speak for me who don't."

Meet the Occupy Wall Street protesters

Many of those tweeting share the belief that the protesters need to stop complaining about the government and financial institutions and start looking for work. Ken Gardner, an attorney in Dallas, joined the conversation because he opposes government handouts.

"We don't want to be the 53% who carries the 47% on our shoulders," said Gardner, who thinks more people should pay federal income taxes.

Eder's hashtag helped inspire Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative website and a CNN contributor, to set up a Tumblr blog called "We are the 53%." It mimics Occupy Wall Street "We are the 99 percent" site.

The 53% site gives a voice to those who reject the contention that most Americans are victims of the system, said Josh Trevino, "quasi-official spokesman" for the blog.

"What the 99% is missing is the element of personal responsibility," said Trevino, who is also vice president at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. "The 53% want to bring that into the conversation."

More than a thousand people have sent in entries to the 53% site, which generally features their photo next to a piece of paper that outlines their views, as well as their struggles and work histories.

"I am responsible for my own destiny," writes one 34-year-old father of three. "I will succeed or fail because of me and me alone."

"I took jobs I didn't want. Why don't you?" says one poster to the protesters. "Suck it up and become part of the 53%."

As Frank Decker read through the posts, he felt he could relate. A public school teacher in Vancouver, Wash., Decker and his wife lived below the poverty line until they decided to go back to school to become educators. He sent in a post because he wanted to share his story.

"We didn't go through all that struggle while raising three kids to support people who don't feel they need to work or people who feel they are entitled to something they haven't earned," said Decker, 44.

At this point, neither Keder nor Trevino plan to shift their 53% efforts from the online world to the physical one. But they are both surprised at how popular the backlash has become.

"It's lasted far longer than we thought and it's become much bigger than we thought," Trevino said. "It's not over yet." To top of page

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Comment by Dustin on October 27, 2011 at 11:21pm

here is an interesting article.  It's true too.  If you work 2 jobs, one full time at a fast food joint and another part time job somewhere else - working 80 hours a week, you can be in the top 50%.  


But from THERE, you can easily move up with only one job.  I was moving up faster than anyone else had ever before in the Taco Bell franchise I worked at for about a year.  Within 3 months, I was training to be a shift leader and then I started training to be an assistant manager.  They make about 30 - 35k a year plus bonuses - The managers above them easily make 50k a year to about 70k a year plus bonuses.  In about 3 years or so, anyone with a quality attitude and determination to learn business and people management can do it as well.  


You just have to get over yourselves and the whole 'Oh, I'm better than THAT job ... ' - Well, the regional managers at fast food make quite a lot of money - it's a very safe career because people need to eat - and they get treated well in the higher management.  


I'm not saying the 1% are NOT making 'too much' in comparison , but I think again, as I mentioned before, the 99% truly are the ones supporting the 1% with our fickle need for high technology , entertainment / sports, etc.  


Those people protesting will most likely still enjoy watching their favorite teams compete - If everyone stopped watching sports and stopped watching the high end tv stars or buying the albums of top music stars, their would be no demand for it and thus those millionaires wouldn't be making so much.  We should start focusing on ourselves, our own education, throw away our tv's, invest our time in bettering ourselves at our own jobs instead of complaining that others are making more than us.  

Comment by Dustin on October 27, 2011 at 11:22pm
Comment by John Luikart on October 27, 2011 at 11:32pm

I think some people are missing their point.  It's not about jobs it's about wealth inequality.  Honestly I'm torn between the 2 sides.  Some jobs are valuable to society, but don't pay that much compared to their importance, like teachers, scientists, soldiers,some nurses, etc.  Some people do what what they do because they like it or maybe they have an aptitude for it.  Some scientists have to take out 10s of thousands in loans to make 50k a year does that mean they are less valuable to society than someone who makes millions by investing money into corporations? 


On the other hand.

There are people like steve jobs that I think desserve the right to be insanely wealthy because they have done something great.  Everywhere he went he blazed a trail of success.  He is a 1% er in so many ways. 


Frankly I don't think either side is completely right.  I think a population is much stronger as a whole if there is at least some governed trickle down of wealth.  But you have to be careful not to make that the norm, or people become satisfied with being mediocre. 


Comment by Atheist Exile on October 27, 2011 at 11:48pm

I am, politically, a moderate most comfortable in the political center.  I am dubious of the political extremes on both the left and the right.  As presented at, there are currently 8 official proposed demands (subject to change) from Occupy Wall Street -- and I agree with all of them.

However, there is much on that webpage that give me pause.  The Original List of Proposed Demands includes much that has no direct bearing on labor or finance.  The war on drugs (#6), repeal of capital punishment (#8), International Human Rights Law (#11), precedence for the rights of victims (#12) . . . these are unrelated issues that make the movement seem destined to expand into a liberal-left takeover of our democracy that could well damage U.S. competitiveness in the world economy.

This concern about the ultimate intentions of the movement is further exacerbated by the Unofficial Proposed Demands.  They include demands for: Environment Responsibility Reform (#14); Martial Law procedures (#15); and official governmental pursuit of 9/11 conspiracy theories (#17).

While many of the unrelated demands are worthy in their own right, the movement (in my opinion) should stick with core issues directly related to labor and finance.  We need focus; NOT a shotgun approach.

Comment by Dustin on October 27, 2011 at 11:59pm

well, legalizing drugs would in fact create a lot of jobs and clear up the prisons a bit ... 

Comment by Atheist Exile on October 28, 2011 at 1:13am

Yes, Dustin, I'm all for legalizing non-addictive drugs.  Addictive drugs should remain illegal and enforcement should pursue the dealers -- not the addicts.

Comment by Atheist Exile on October 28, 2011 at 2:30am

I do believe that personal responsibility is of utmost importance; especially for adults.  I believe in helping hands but not handouts.  Our government should provide a safety net for those who are physically or mentally unable to care for themselves.

It's an unfortunate fact of life that far too many people are just plain lazy.  This has always been the case and probably always will be.  If able-bodied, mentally sound, people refuse to get off their asses, they deserve all the poverty they get.  Society does not owe them a goddamn thing.  Every effort should be made to prevent apathetic people from becoming a drain on the rest of us.

But what about the hard-working people living in poverty?  Labor laws should ensure that minimum wages for full-time employment are adequate enough to pay for life's essentials and HUD should ensure there's adequate housing for the working poor.  Employee rights need to be enshrined in law and employers should be held strictly accountable for any violations.

There will always be materially successful, as well as unsuccessful, people.  The stratification of society is inevitable in free countries.  You want everybody to be materially equal?  Go to Cuba.  It's not perfect but it's as close as you'll get to material equality.

I believe in free enterprise BUT WITH STRICT GOVERNMENTAL CONTROLS AGAINST EXCESSES such as monopolies, price or wage fixing, union busting, employer abuses, windfall profits, etc.  I doubt every excess can be legislated against but new laws can be enacted to prevent abusive practices as they come to light.

It's a struggle.  There's no denying that the profit motive engenders greed.  But until a better system comes along  that will meet the needs of our 320 million citizens (not to mention the 7 billion humans on this planet), capitalist free enterprise -- flawed as it is -- is still the best system currently available.  As far as I know, it's the only system capable of keeping this world of ours going.

Comment by Jesus_Was_A_Man_Or_Myth_Or_Both on October 28, 2011 at 2:54am

About that 47 Percent

You'll recall the other day that I had a post about the new right-wing meme about the 47% of Americans who have "representation without taxation" because they pay no federal income tax. That's the post where I threatened to move to Sussex.

Well, the NYT's David Leonhardt smartly debunks this nonsense in his column today. First of all:

Given that taxes are likely to be one of the big political issues of the next few years — and maybe the biggest one — it's worth understanding who really pays what in taxes. Once you do, you can get a sense for our country's fiscal options. How, in other words, will we be able to close the huge looming gap between the taxes we are scheduled to pay and the services we are scheduled to receive?

The answer is that tax rates almost certainly have to rise more on the affluent than on other groups. Over the last 30 years, rates have fallen more for the wealthy, and especially the very wealthy, than for any other group. At the same time, their incomes have soared, and the incomes of most workers have grown only moderately faster than inflation.

Ah. Now that's some context, no? There has been a massive redistribution of wealth in this country. It's been to the top 1%. It is what the numbers say. As much as it infuriates people (just watch the comment thread), it is true.


The 47 percent number is not wrong. The stimulus programs of the last two years — the first one signed by President George W. Bush, the second and larger one by President Obama — have increased the number of households that receive enough of a tax credit to wipe out their federal income tax liability.

But the modifiers here — federal and income — are important. Income taxes aren't the only kind of federal taxes that people pay. There are also payroll taxes and capital gains taxes, among others. And, of course, people pay state and local taxes, too.

Even if the discussion is restricted to federal taxes (for which the statistics are better), a vast majority of households end up paying federal taxes. Congressional Budget Office data suggests that, at most, about 10 percent of all households pay no net federal taxes. The number 10 is obviously a lot smaller than 47.

Oh. Well, that is a little different, innit?

Conservative lying is certainly inventive. Endlessly so. But when a crackerjack columnist like Leonhardt has to devote a column to debunking utterly spurious nonsense from some other solar system, in a way they've already won.

Comment by Jesus_Was_A_Man_Or_Myth_Or_Both on October 28, 2011 at 2:55am

The people behind 53 percent simply do not bother to exercise their brains and learn basic information - here is the tax burden for all of us.



CHART OF THE DAY: The ‘47 Percent’ Pay Their Fair Share

CHART OF THE DAY: The ‘47 Percent’ Pay Their Fair Share


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Conservatives are continuing their counter-protest against the so-called “47 percent.” Specifically, that’s the share of recession-era households that pay no federal income taxes. Most of them pay payroll taxes and other federal taxes (not to ment..., but Republicans have chosen to depict them as the free-riding half of the country.

The fact of the matter, though, is that those other taxes constitute a huge chunk of federal revenues. Check out the charts below. Over the 58 years preceding the Lesser Depression, the share of federal revenues that came from individual income taxes has remained fairly stable, fluctuating between 40 and 50 percent, and peaking just before George W. Bush slashed rates in 2001.

The rest has come from corporate income taxes, payroll taxes, and various other taxes. To a surprising extent, the story of the last six decades is one of a shrinking burden on big business, and a growing burden on workers — the bulk of the “47 percent”. Since 1950, regressive payroll taxes have grown to comprise over one-third of federal revenues — they used to comprise about one-tenth. For corporate income taxes, it’s just the opposite — what used to provide the Treasury over a quarter of its revenue now provides just over 10 percent.

Income taxes, both corporate and individual, provide “general revenue” — money that the government spends on most federal programs. Payroll taxes, by contrast, are dedicated to financing Medicare and Social Security, both of which have grown considerably as a share of national expenditures in past decades. Indeed, prior to 1965, there was no Medicare, and the payroll tax’s share of revenue has grown since to reflect that. But to a wage-earner’s annual bottom line, that makes no difference.

Separately, revenue as a percentage of GDP has fluctuated over the years, climbing steadily from 1950-2000, declining in 2001 after the Bush tax cuts, then bottoming out after the financial crisis and recession. The charts below predate the recession, and the numbers have probably shifted to reflect high unemployment, lower incomes, lower profits, and a temporary but fairly significant payroll tax cut. But “the burden” politicians describe is the whole pot of federal revenue, whatever its size. And the “47 percent” have born their fair share of it.


Comment by Jesus_Was_A_Man_Or_Myth_Or_Both on October 28, 2011 at 2:58am

CHART OF THE DAY: These Are The 47 Percent

CHART OF THE DAY: These Are The 47 Percent

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If the left and the right are proxies in a class war, then they’re currently fighting to win a battle of public perception. Each side wants the public to see them as on the side of the beleaguered many against the powerful few.

Democrats are vying for victory by supporting tax increases on millionaires and the “Buffett Rule,” which posits that all millionaires should pay at least the same effective tax rates as the middle class. The Occupy Wall Street protesters have turned “We Are The 99 Percent” into a rallying cry.

How do you argue against that? By obscuring what the fight’s really about, and perpetuating the sense that hundreds of millions of people are gaming the system. To do this, conservatives and Republican elected officials are citing recent data to create the impression that a small majority of people in the country pay all the taxes, and nearly half (a large minority) pay nothing at all. It’s a false impression, and when you break down who comprises this now-famous “47 percent” — the poor, the disabled, and the elderly — it makes you wonder why anybody thought it was a good idea to pick a public fight with them.

What’s really going on here is that about 47 percent of households paid no federal income taxin 2009. Either they owed nothing, or they got as much back from the federal government as they paid — or more.

This ignores payroll taxes, state and local taxes, gas taxes, excise taxes and much more. But to hear conservatives talk about it, you’d think these people’s entire tax burden was $0.00. In April, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), citing similar data, claimed “According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, 49 percent of households are paying 100 percent of taxes coming in to the federal government.” Notice the absence of the key qualifier, “income.” And Grassley’s far from alone.

As Benjy Sarlin explained at length the Republican answer to th


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