By Tom Quiner
Samson sleeps with a machete under his bed.
His neighborhood isn’t a very nice place, so the machete serves as his security blanket. He lives on the wrong side of the tracks in a place called Gugulethu, as in Gugulethu, South Africa.
His skin is black; his blood is red; and his heart is pure gold.
My son, Mark, went to South Africa on business, and to my chagrin, spent a night in Samson’s abode. No harm came to him, but in the morning, Samson asked if the bed bugs bothered him.
Samson lives in abject, material poverty by most American metrics.
Who is this South African guy with the biblical name?
Samson lived with us for nearly a year back in 1998 and 1999 as part of the Simon Estes exchange program. Mr. Estes is an Iowa native with international renown in the world of opera for his rich baritone voice. He brought 40 choir members from a South African high school over to Iowa in a unique exchange program.
We’ve remained very close to Samson ever since, talking to him via Skype every month.
He has enjoyed some success since returning home. Samson has a deep, rich voice in his own right, and has sung in a number of operas with the Capetown Opera Company as a member of the ensemble. He has traveled to Germany with the company on a number of occasions.
We are proud of his achievements. Unfortunately, opera is hit or miss. It doesn’t sustain Samson, and he has to do without basic necessities, like food, on occasion. Jobs are hard to find.
We provide modest, material support to act as his safety net when times are tough.
We sent over a pair of Nikes and Levis for Samson when Mark made his trip. Samson proudly wore them for all in his community to see. Within one week, they were stolen. In fact, everything was stolen from his home, which is about half the size of my garage, everything except his mattress which sits on the ground.
Perhaps the bed bugs deterred the thieves.
In the U.S., the poverty rate is $23,050 for a family of four.
About fifteen percent of our country lives at or below the poverty rate. Being poor in the U.S. is a little different than being poor in Gugulethu. The Heritage Foundation studied material poverty in our country. They found three out four in poverty have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two.
Eight out of ten have air conditioning.
Two out of three have cable television or a satellite dish.
Half have at least one computer.
This is interesting: the average poor person here has more living space than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, the United Kingdom, or France.
And researchers out of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago learned that ninety-six percent of poor parents in the U.S. said their kids were never hungry for lack of food.
By contrast, Samson recently went five days without food, to our shame, because he wasn’t able to get a hold of us. He has no television, no car, no air conditioning.
Each year, the U.S. spends about a trillion dollars at the federal, state, and local levels in an attempt to alleviate poverty.
We have created 126 different anti-poverty programs at the federal level and erected vast bureaucracies to oversee their administration. We spend over $20,000 per person fighting poverty at the federal, state, and local level.
Has it worked? Has the “war on poverty” initiated by Lyndon Johnson in the mid 1960s made a dent in our poverty rate? Some programs have worked well, others are questionable. In all, about the same percentage of folks live in poverty today as in 1966.
Honorable people can disagree on whether our safety net is lavish or not.
But it is surely at risk, but not because of the Paul Ryan budget which proposes spending at a higher level than George W. Bush’s last budget (the same one Barack Obama blasted as being “unpatriotic”).
The safety net is at grave risk because we can’t sustain Barack Obama’s spending habits. When adjusted for inflation in 2000 dollars, the federal government will bring in just $193 less per person than in Bill Clinton’s last year in office when the budget was in balance. But we’re spending so much more than the Clinton budget: $6356 per citizen for Clinton vs. $8986 for Obama (in inflation-adjusted dollars for the year 2000).
Paul Ryan’s budget is bloated compared to the Bill Clinton/Newt Gingrich approach to spending taxpayer’s money.
Here’s the point: we can’t sustain the lavish spending appetites of Barack Obama. The poor are going to get hurt the most when a Greece-like debt crisis hits our shores.
The Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan approach of spending restraint, tax simplification, and a leaner, less intrusive federal government makes sense, not just for big business and small business owners (who create most of the jobs), but for the poor who are looking to find a job and get out of poverty.
Do the poor in the U.S. have it a lot better than Samson? Of course, but that’s not the point. They could be so much better off. The Romney/Ryan plan presents a path to prosperity.
I’m concerned that the Obama approach puts the poor at grave risk.
Surely we can find a happy medium between Gugulethu and Greece.