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The statement

There is "a situation in this country where you're nearing 50 percent of people who don't even pay income taxes."

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., on CNBC's Squawk Box

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The ruling: TRUE

When House Majority Leader Cantor says people, he means "tax-filing units," which refers to individuals or couples that either file a tax return or would have if they had earned enough income, according to his staff.

To support his assertion, Cantor's camp provided a variety of studies and media reports that do indicate about 50 percent of U.S. households owed no federal income tax in 2009 - the most recent year tax data are available.

In 2009, for example, the Tax Policy Center projected 47 percent of people would pay no income tax that year, up from previous estimates of 38 percent - largely due to additional tax credits through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009.

Anything newer?

The Joint Committee on Taxation sent a letter to Congress on the matter only days after Cantor's Squawk Box appearance.

Using 2009 tax data, the committee estimated that slightly more than 50 percent of tax-filing units paid no income tax.

"In summary, for tax year 2009, approximately 22 percent of all tax units, including filers and non filers, will have zero income tax liability, approximately 30 percent will receive a refundable tax credit, and approximately 49 percent will have a positive income tax liability," the letter reads.

"That's consistent with the numbers we've come up with," said Roberton Williams with the Tax Policy Center.

"The main reason is the fact that we don't specifically use the tax system to collect taxes; we use it for tax collections and to deliver social policy," he said. "Because of that we end up giving people money that could be provided to them through spending programs."

But because the United States uses the tax system to distribute money, it reduces the tax liability for 51 percent of tax filing units to, or below, zero.

Williams said that's largely due to popular tax breaks, or tax expenditures.

"There are lots and lots of them. We estimate they total more than a trillion dollars a year in reduced taxes and in fact the bulk of those go to the top end of the income distribution," he said.

We rate Cantor's statement True.

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